If you spend any time looking at amphitheater concert listings during the summer months, the initials O.A.R. are certain to pop up on your radar.
O.A.R. – or Of A Revolution to fans – has never been able to take it easy when it comes to promoting itself, keeping fairly close to the DIY mentality they fostered upon forming in a Baltimore basement in 1996. The band, who will be celebrating their 20th anniversary when they unpack for the latest stop on their “XX Tour: Evolution of a Revolution” at Raleigh’s Red Hat Amphitheater Sunday night, has learned that nothing builds a fan base better than a reputation for great live shows.
“We try to make each show very specific to that night,” explains Chris Culos, drummer for O.A.R. since the beginning. “We want everyone who comes to see us to feel as if they are getting a very personal, unique take on the show. We change our setlist from night to night, as well as just play off the crowd; if we feel like we need to change up the order of the songs that we wrote down due to how amped up the audience is, we’ll do it.”
Culos says the band improvises and often changes the lyrics to songs on the fly, to make the songs unique.
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“When we play from year to year, folks show up to hear a lot of their favorite songs, but they don’t know what they are going to get,” Culos said. “Hopefully it keeps them coming back, but it makes it fun for us as a band as well; it keeps it fresh, and keeps us on our toes. If we were the type of band that played the same songs every night, I’d love to say I would give it my all every night, but I don’t know that that would be the case. There’s a spontaneity that is palpable that can be felt by the crowd, and it makes them feel like they’re not just sitting there listening to the radio, that it’s a real live experience.”
Still, 20 years on the road can weigh on any musician. Band members may notice they are playing for a few of the same faces each time they perform in certain cities, and while those fans may want to hear some deep cuts off of their favorite album, they definitely want to hear the songs that managed to break through onto mainstream radio.
“That’s the whole thing,” Culos explains, “(the improv) stops us from thinking, ‘Ugh, we have to go do another tour now.’ We actually just talked about this recently, where we feel like we overheard someone put their tour in those words. We look at it more like we get to go on tour, and we get to put on a show each night. Everyone has asked us if playing ‘That Was A Crazy Game of Poker’ (a near-nine minute epic that appeared on the band’s debut album ‘The Wanderer’) every night on stage drives us crazy, and the truth is that as soon as we break into that song the crowd lights up. You can see it in their eyes, how they get so excited, and for us it’s still one of our absolute favorites.
“Now, that’s just one song as an example, but for us it feels like playing it for the first time every single time. For me, that’s special, and I hope that the audience can feel that energy coming off the stage.”
So the veterans of O.A.R. will climb up onto a Triangle stage one more time Sunday, and look down upon a sea of fans that have steadfastly stood by them for the past two decades. Long gone are the days of basement practices, and the young kids who were trying to make a go of it professionally as a jam band at a time when the music business was focused solely on grunge. They have seen a lot change musically, and are happy that they may have found the key to staying relevant 20 years down the road.
“When we first started, we were still dubbing cassette tapes and passing burnt copies of CDs around, coming up through the beginning of the era of online file sharing,” Culos said. “There were still CDs in stores; hell, there were still CD stores!
“We’ve been around long enough to see a lot of things change, but I think it gives us an advantage. We’ve grown along with all of the new breakthroughs, and have become pretty good at seeing what is coming up over the horizon. Every hour something changes, and there is a part of you that feels like it’s hard to keep up, but I think if we just keep putting out the most honest music we can we’ll continue to reach our audience.”
When: 6:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: Red Hat Amphitheater, 500 S. McDowell St., Raleigh