Concert Review: Smash Mouth and Luscious Jackson (Siena College, Loudonville, New York, February 26, 2000)

The three-band bill at Siena College Saturday night was part of the ongoing Outloud concert series co-presented by Doritos and Internet information giant Yahoo!. So in addition to the musical acts, this show also featured a variety of interactive web-media displays and dot-com-themed freebies, not to mention complimentary Doritos for one and all. (Note to marketing, though: Do something soon about the yeast-infection-like smell of those ranch chips. Wow. Phew.)

On the upside, this show did demonstrate one of the positive potentialities inherent with big time corporate sponsorship, bad snack food aroma notwithstanding. Saturday’s heavily-underwritten show was a very affordable, all-ages concert featuring a trio of nationally-recognizable talent, located it in a safe, hospitable setting that was comfortable for young folk, college students and grownups alike. I saw scads of kids digging the tunes with their moms and dads all night long-and that’s always cool, even if they are getting bombarded with marketing propaganda. Rock on, little buddies! Then shop later!

The six-piece, Los Angeles-based Hippos opened the evening with an over-the-top, in-yer-face set of ska-flavored party grooves, some of them covers, some of them originals that sounded like covers. Bonus points must be awarded for the band’s nifty deployment of a pair of vintage Moog synthesizers, nicely complementing the usual trombone-and-trumpet support that most Fishbone-flavored ensembles of this ilk offer. Big props, too, to the group’s new (but not introduced) drummer, who added some boss, Keith Moon-style, round-and-round-the-drum-kit fills that still managed to hit the backbeat when he needed to be hit, most of the time.

Unfortunately, the Hippos’ drummer and Moog masters played in darkness for most of their set, as the evening’s sole (noticeable) technical glitch left but a single white spotlight on singer-guitarist Ariel Rechitshaid. Bo-ring. The traveling roadshow’s gearheads got that all straightened out, though, by the time Luscious Jackson’s Kate Schellenbach, Gabriella Glaser and Jill Cunniff took to the stage, along with another trio of supporting players, most commendably near-show-stealer Tia Sprocket.

That was good, since Luscious Jackson were as nice to watch as they were to hear. And, no, that’s not a lookist, sexist observation: Luscious Jackson can play-and their five-piece front-line spent most of the evening swapping basses, guitars, keyboards, microphones and percussion instrument, giving each and every song its own unique texture, dynamic and focus. Only drummer Kate Schellenbach and DJ Alex Young (who also spun discs during the intermissions between sets) held their spots throughout the performance, anchoring the evocative hip-pop excursions launched by their band mates.

While Luscious Jackson were nowhere near as in-your-face as the groups that preceded and followed them, the fact that they let their music (and the audience) breathe made for the evening’s most captivating performance-although their lighter sound did get lost a bit in the concert’s cavernous gym setting. No problems along that front for Smash Mouth, however, a studio quartet who also beefed up to a six-piece for the evening — and who proceeded to pummel the audience with everything they had for 90 mostly-excruciating minutes.

Don’t get me wrong, Smash Mouth’s hits (“Walking on the Sun,” “All Star,” “The Way That You Are” and “Can’t Get Enough of You, Baby”) are truly fabulous — but they’ve got nothing else in the arsenal that comes anywhere close. And when guest keyboardist Eric Valentine leaves the stage, they ain’t much to speak of from an instrumental standpoint either. Finally, singer Steve Harwell’s voice, tolerable in small doses, also had my hair standing on edge by set’s end — particularly after he groaned through a pair of deeply misguided power ballads.

Wow, man. Bad idea. Worse even than the ranch Doritos.

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