You know a show will be good when they have two people drumming. With the percussive energy twice as high, O.A.R. blew the (metaphorical) doors off of the pavilion at Merriweather for their hometown show in Columbia, Maryland, just 25 miles from the middle school that the band attended, the place where lead singer Marc Roberge told the audience the group first performed together at an 8th grade talent show.
The show is part of the band’s “2016 XX Tour: Evolution of a Revolution” promoting their new album, XX. The two disk set highlights fan favorites, debuts two new songs, and features various selections from live shows. It’s also a celebration of the band’s 20th anniversary that Roberge, who remained talkative and engaging through the show, referenced as an impetus for the group to continue moving forward.
In a show that featured hits “Shattered,” “Love and Memories,” and “Peace,” alongside a new song, “I Go Through,” the nearly full pavilion and packed lawn were almost shaking from energy and excitement. Improvised solos were punctuated by familiar shouts and kept charming by the horns, Jerry DiPizzo (tenor sax) and John Lampley (trumpet), who danced throughout the set. The show was so engaging that the crowd barely noticed the omission of a few well-known songs (“Here’s To You,” “Mr. Moon”).
The performance had almost too many highlights to list. Was it when Roberge knelt down to photograph his band mates during each of their featured parts? When DiPizzo and Lampley took the front of the stage and traded solos during “Place To Hide?” The lightshow that formed a colored pane reminiscent of Mario Kart’s Rainbow Road course? The show had nearly too many incredible moments to keep track of. One must mention the stellar keyboard-synth interlude in Hey Girl and Roberge’s touching memorial of Mike, the band’s dear friend who came to every show since their days playing in people’s backyards. Each of these moments showcased the band members’ talents and passions for music, taking the audience experience beyond one of just a viewer. Audience members were actively interested and invested in the band’s presence and greater performance.
A very special moment came an hour into the show when the band stopped the screens showing the stage and cut to the men’s swimming 4×100 Medley Relay at the Rio Olympics. The entire arena watched the team overtake Great Britain to win the gold amid chants of “USA! USA!” The band used this opportunity to fade into hit Black Rock, shutting down the lights and building up to an ear-splitting rendition.
An encore opened with a beautiful cover of Coldplay’s “Fix You” featuring the lead singer of the show’s opening act, The Hunts, to which the audience excitedly sang along. They closed with an exceptional performance of “That Was a Crazy Game of Poker” that saw hundreds of fans toss cheap decks of cards toward the stage. The best thing about attending concerts is watching people you like doing something they love; Roberge twice said that O.A.R.’s goal is to make people feel good – and they delivered.
Many fans say O.A.R.’s “Live at Red Rocks” album is the pinnacle of the band’s talent. “Live at Merriweather” might be an even better representation of their skill and charisma.