Sno-Core at the Aragon Ballroom
Chicago Tribune, March 1, 1999
By Greg Kot
Everclear, the little band that could, came to the Aragon on Saturday
determined not just to be better than on its previous swings through
town, but bigger.
It was the band's way of celebrating a year of improbable success, and
what's a party without excess, after all? But it was a tough night for
the music, which sounded sloppy and cluttered in contrast to the band's
earlier, buzz saw-precision appearances in Chicago clubs, particularly
the more sonically friendly Metro.
On this night, the guitar-bass-drums trio doubled in size, adding a
percussionist, keyboardist and guitarist - plus an array of arena lights
that could have illuminated not only a Queen concert but a landing strip
at O'Hare. From the synchronized leaps of the guitarists on the opening
intrumental to the thundering-herd drumming of "Amphetamine," Everclear
came to overpower and overwhelm. The energy was so high that singer Art
Alexakis gave up tring to sing on key because he was too busy trying to
outshout the band, his voice reduced to a hoarse wail.
"Heroin Girl" was exuberant, the crowd itching to sing along and
Alexakis gladly obliging them by backing away from the microphone, but
it was a mess - a case of too much adrenaline, not enough song.
Somewhere underneath all that testosterone, amplification and blinding
flash were the instant recognition melodies that have made Everclear the
most overachieving band of the late '90s. Last year, while countless
rock bands got more record-industry and media attention - Pearl Jam,
Hole, Marilyn Manson, Smashing Pumpkins - Everclear quietly released hit
single after hit single, until its 1997 album, "So Much for the
Afterglow," had passed 2 million in sales.
The current tour - the Sno-Core mini-festival with three other
acts - marked the band's third major trek across the country in support
of that release, and it was to Everclear's credit that it tried to up
the ante. But the music worked best when Alexakis, bassist Craig
Montoya and drummber Greg Eklund pared down the arrangements, beginning
midset with an acoustic "Strawberry" and "Heartspark Dollarsign."
Finally, Alexakis was able to sing in his natural baritone range, and
the concise cannily structured melodies that make the singer as one of
the decade's most dedicated purveyors of sugarsmack pop were brought to
Alexakis' post-grunge tunecraft and his metaphor-free lyrics about youth
losing its bloom aren't the stuff of rock legend; they're merely the
lifeblood of a down-to-earth touring band. Everclear dressed down like
their fans, and delivered the expected anthems in the predictable
places: "Santa Monica" as set-closer and "Father of Mine" as the first
encore. They are songs of disillusionment, but the mood was festive, a
reminder that nothing flushes out the blahs like a cranked up rock 'n'
roll fist-waver - a maxim that modest little Everclear has embraced and
taken all the way to the bank.
Nonetheless, the bill was pleasingly diverse, including turntable
maestro DJ Spooky, rappers Black Eyed Peas and art-groovemeisters Soul
Coughingm whose rap-singer M. Doughty is nerdy and proud of it. He
turned hip-hop's showboating vocal style inward, as if delivering
stream-of-consciousness interior monologues in a rhythmic mumble. "Is
Chicago? Is not Chicago?" he muttered as drums clattered and cartoon
characters skittered on a screen behindhim. Without emphasizing
melodies, Soul Coughing made absurdly catchy music that built to rousing
The three emcees in the Black Eyed Peas swapped rhymes over a five-piece
band, avoiding most of the dreaded rap cliches while blending break-dancing
routines with simmering funk and reggae syncopations.