It is impossible to review Better Than Ezra’s show in Vacaville Saturday without acknowledging that halfway through their set, the ‘90s buzz band performed a medley of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Games,” Oasis’ “Wonderwall,” Gorillaz’ “Feel Good Inc.,” – the rap part – “White Wedding” by Billy Idol and the Rolling Stones’ “Shattered.”
Yeah, that happened.
The New Orleans band, which hasn’t had a commercial hit since 2005’s “Juicy,” but is better known for its ‘90s hits like “Good” and “Desperately Wanting,” rarely tours through California these days. This weekend they played two East Bay shows, which is how they found themselves at the Vacaville Performing Arts Theatre.
“People always talk about playing San Francisco or Los Angeles. We like to keep it real; we’re getting real in Vacaville tonight,” lead singer-guitarist Kevin Griffin said.
Even though they would probably prefer playing in a metropolis like San Francisco, you had to laud the band for still giving it their all. After blowing through “In the Blood,” off their most successful album, 1993’s Deluxe, and a few other tunes, Griffin (who looks like an older version of actor Jesse Eisenberg) led the crowd to sing the entire first verse of “Long Lost.”
The first few rows must have been filled with Ezralites (as the band’s fans are known), because they did not disappoint.
“Extra Ordinary,” off 2001’s Closer, and “King of New Orleans,” off 1996’s Friction, Baby, are two other lesser-known tracks that still carry over well in a live setting. Griffin’s voice is largely unchanged since Better Than Ezra’s glory days.
The latter song led into the two best covers of the night. In honor of Levon Helm, the drummer for The Band, who passed away a few days ago, they performed The Band’s “The Weight” and “The King.”
A short time later, Griffin asked for some moody and mysterious lighting, before launching into the previously mentioned covers medley. The band, which includes original bassist and backing vocalist Tom Drummond, as well as drummer Michael Jerome and touring guitarist James Arthur Payne, were clearly having fun. The bit came off kitschy, likely on purpose. Griffin and Drummond joked with the crowd throughout the show, be it about the band’s long-awaited reggae version of “Good,” or reenacting the naughty parts of Game of Thrones for couples’ therapy.
Several other covers that followed – the Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil,” the Rolling Stones’ “Miss You and AC/DC’s “Whole Lotta Rosie” were overkill. A cover of James’ “Laid,” went over well, however.
Better Than Ezra was at their best playing their own material like the angsty “Teenager,” and “Desperately Wanting.”