....................... .. 2003....
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Rocking the USA!
....In some corners of the rock world, Everclear is viewed like the Foo Fighters: a valiant holdout from the alternative-rock heyday, crafting principled rock that still manages to get played on MTV and otherwise vapid modern-rock radio. But for all of his protestations of delivering pop with substance (i.e., songs about drug addiction and divorce) with bandleader Art Alexakis. Everclear made it an anthem with 1995's breakthrough hit "Heroin Girl." And then came "Santa Monica," "Wonderful" and, recently, "Volvo Driving Soccer Mom." It was the dawn of a new Everclear, a band that liked the sound a radio makes when it's playing one of the band's songs, and had the formula down pat for getting it done. Make no mistake, Everclear has made alt-pop hits an art form - Art Alexakis-form, to be exact. The bleached-white blond frontman for Everclear has a thing for the "na nas." They literally make two of the group's biggest hits. On "Wonderful," a steady stream of "nas" give the song its vocal hook, and on the first single off Everclear's sixth album, "Slow Motion Daydream," it's the compound "na na" repeated over the chorus that steers "Volvo Driving Soccer Mom." When you hear them back-to-back - as was the case Thursday night at the Famous Fillmore in San Francisco - it all seems quite silly, and yet no one was laughing, and everyone was singing along. Everclear has an awful lot of hits, and they almost all sound the same. Even the non-hit "Learning How to Smile," performed in stripped-down fashion for the first time ever, nicks the riff from "Santa Monica," which, of course, nicks from Bruce Springsteen's "Fire." It never ends. Still, the performance of "Learning How to Smile" was quite touching, as was the insouciant "Strawberry" and brooding "Summerland," all played during a mid-set spate. "Father of Mine," an overplayed radio hit, got gilded with a tempo-shifting Greg Eklund drum solo and some serious audience interactivity. Later, during the encore, Alexakis invited a fan onstage to commandeer his guitar and play his part during "Santa Monica." After goofing on the lanky apprentice for playing the riff too slowly, "Johnny" - as the crowd would later chant - got it just right, and Alexakis was free to roam the mini-risers on either end of the stage. It was a hackneyed stunt - one that Green Day's been doing for years - but it absolutely worked. Then Alexakis and bassist Craig Montoya - who earlier in the encore played bass atop the shoulders of a burly fan - rummaged through the crowd and invited two dozen fans onstage to prance around during a cover of Cheap Trick's "Surrender." With Montoya on lead vocals, the band ripped through a punk perfect version of the classic rock tune, thus ending a whirlwind 90-minute set. Even though Alexakis sang earlier, "I'm just learning to smile, that's not easy to do," it wasn't all that difficult for him or anyone else Thursday night.
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...... By Randy Cohen

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