October 27, 2016 Better Than Ezra’s Kevin Griffin Up Close & Personal Boulton Center Bay Shore, NY 10-21-16
When thinking of some of the most accomplished songwriters and producers of the past two decades, chances are most overlook the name Kevin Griffin. Most often associated as the voice of Better Than Ezra, Griffin has also produced and co-written songs with a list of successful artists including Howie Day, Taylor Swift, Christina Perri, James Blunt, Train, Blondie, Shinedown, and Meat Loaf, just to name a few. Achieving multi-Platinum sales with Better Than Ezra’s 1995 debut, Deluxe, Griffin is also an Aria winning, and 5-time BMI Pop award winning, songwriter, producer, multi-instrumentalist.
A humble man, regardless of his endless achievements, he still loves to get out on the road and perform live, with or without a full band. That said, in recent years, Griffin has filled in the spaces in between Better Than Ezra’s touring with special acoustic solo shows. Completing one of these unique rounds of shows back in 2015 prior to Better Than Ezra’s stint on the Under The Sun Tour, Griffin is back at it in the fall of 2016. Offering his talents in an up-close-and-personal setting at intimate venues around the USA, Griffin arrived on the South Shore of Long Island, New York on Friday, October 21, 2016 to host the YMCA Boulton Center for the Performing Arts. Set in the rejuvenated downtown area of Bay Shore village, after an unusually warm previous few days, the weather finally started to feel like fall, and with many on the streets searching for dinner and pubs to kick off their weekend, a select few entered the doors of the Boulton Center for a night of music.
It would be Griffin’s second show in two nights in the New York area, the first being the night prior around an hour west at City Winery in Manhattan. Equally as quaint and relaxed, the YMCA Boulton Center for the Performing Arts is one of Suffolk County’s hidden gems when it comes to music. With some of the arts most exciting names dressing their marquee, the artists love it here so much, they often return for future performances. In fact, that is true about Griffin as well with his previous visit to the venue on October 28, 2011 when he came along with Collective Soul’s Ed Roland for The Southern Gentlemen Tour.
This time stopping in solo, without an opening act, Griffin casually walked on stage just after the 8 PM hour to get the show started. In good spirits and relaxed, he immediately began to play with the crowd, strumming his acoustic guitar and singing The Village People’s “YMCA.” A good ice breaker, the audience laughed, let loose, and, moments later, Griffin launched into the Better Than Ezra 1996 single “King of New Orleans.” Singing with passion, his voice danced through high and low notes from this point on as he went into songs like “Porcelain,” where he invited the audience to add the backing vocals. Making light of the fact that it was an extremely intimate crowd, Griffin confessed he did not mind at all, and because of such, he would make an effort to be on a name base with fans. Sticking to his word, he was, calling out audience member’s names to ask them questions and joke around, adding to the charm of the night.
Just a few songs in, Griffin invited his friend and Percussionist Jen Lowe to join him on stage. A Connecticut native, Lowe is also a multi-instrumentalist, having toured with a list of national acts. Remaining with Griffin on stage for the remainder of the set, Lowe added a cool back beat to songs like Better Than Ezra’s newer cut, “Dollar Sign,” off the band’s 2014 album, All Together Now. Griffin continued to show off his impressive range going into falsettos with ease. From here, he continued to converse with the audience, keeping the mood relaxed and fun while joking that there really was a massive crowd waiting outside the doors of the Boulton Center waiting to get in, but they were not allowed in. Joking aside, Griffin got serious at all the right times as he moved along into the popular co-written hit “Collide.” Performed by Howie Day, Griffin stated they co-wrote the song together prior to 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, and soon after, it was featured on the 2006 Rock For Relief album aimed to aid victims of the storm. A track that means something different to everyone, Griffin sang it beautifully and offered listeners a different perspective vocally as the co-writer.
Lifting everyone’s spirits again, Griffin went on to talk about some songs he wished he had written, and one of them was the Gorillaz “Feel Good Inc” track. Flowing through the varied vocals of the track without a hiccup, he sang, rapped, and jived like a criminal, and it was oh so good. Then, proving that a setlist is just a setlist and anything could change the direction, he began to go into Tom Petty’s “Learning To Fly” before some acoustic Rush. Quite hilarious, he pulled off an impersonation of Geddy Lee exceptionally well and even jammed into a snippet of a Rush guitar solo. With plenty of laughter going around, it was prime time for Griffin to catch everyone off guard as he segued into one of Better Than Ezra’s most popular hits, “Good.” Welcoming the audience to sing along, most gave in and indulged, but it was only a prelude to many more surprises. Among those were the seldom heard live “It’s Only Natural,” followed by “Extra Ordinary,” and modern day favorite, “Crazy Lucky.”
Taking more time to talk with the audience and making sure everyone felt a part of the fun, the music just kept coming with “A Lifetime” before the seasonally fitting “This Time of Year.” Painting a picture of the fall, Griffin’s lyrics were brought to life by more vivid singing that showed no wavering. That said, the highlight of the evening was Griffin’s ability to keep the mood light, and he continued to do just that with a medley of Prince’s “Purple Rain,” David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust,” along with Stone Temple Pilots’ “Interstate Love Song.” He even gave the audience listening assignments, suggesting they all go home and listen to Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” to find Mick Jagger’s backing vocals. It was all good fun, and because of Griffin’s warm personality, the show seemed to go by within the blink of an eye as he wrapped up with “Daylight,” “Under You,” and “Laid.”
Sincerely having a blast on stage, Griffin wanted to be at the YMCA Boulton Center for the Performing Arts, 40 people or 400 people. This is an artist who does not cash it in, and he gave every single fan their money’s worth. Even going to meet all who wanted to say hello following the set, Griffin was a delight to come out and see. He still has a few more solo shows between now and January 2017, with some Better Than Ezra full band shows mixed in. Thereafter, Griffin will be releasing his first ever solo album sometime next year, so do not overlook an opportunity to see him or Better Than Ezra when they come to town.