While heading out of the House of Blues for some air, Aftermath and Mrs. Aftermath shared an elevator with Saturday's opener, Clayton Senne. Previously, we sat through his electric organ driven pop/soul act with annoyance and irritation. At the time, we found his banter condescending and bass-heavy backing band a little too desperate to get the legendary languid Houston concertgoers dancing. The sheer talent of the man and his two partners in the rock dream was, admittedly, undeniable, but at the time all we could think about was that some jackass playing a Stevie Wonder cover was keeping us from the main event. But after exchanging niceties and small talk with the sweaty, but brilliantly smiling, Clayton, we watched him haul his gear through the busy downtown streets into the van and trailer his band had parked behind Everclear's futuristic tour bus of Star Wars proportions. Seeing the keyboard player schlepping caused us to re-evaluate what we had seen him do, and we mentally replayed his set in the dollar-store iPod that serves as our brain. With the hard-working and humanized version of the rock star now in front of me, we saw that I had judged a little harshly. How could we have possibly been annoyed with such a tight trio of ousters? And Senne's voice, husky but clear as bell, could literally ride his Ray Manzarek organ lines right out into the audience and rain in their booze. They had an autograph book for the audience to sign, for the love of Odin's left nut. If that doesn't speak of people living only to love the life they're living then nothing does. It was, in two words, freakin' awesome, and we were just too much of a bitter little troll to see. Next time, guys, we'll do it right. After that little Hallmark moment (we'll wait for you to stop throwing up), we come to Everclear. Using puppets and a formula of our own devising, we can scientifically prove that Songs from an American Movie Vol 1: Learning How to Smile was the best album of the last decade, and that the title track is one of the best songs ever written. To disagree is to have lived an empty life with no conflict. To not be able to appreciate the sheer genius of the smiles in Everclear's litany and legion of sorrows is to admit that you are without depth. Many felt that Art Alexakis (who, for all intents and purposes, is Everclear these days) was the natural inheritor of Kurt Cobain's crown, and we honestly believe that to be the absolute truth. The life of the semi-Houston native is one of the most heartrending tales of drugs and broken homes ever to have a happy ending. And the tales of the troubles are told with the kind of light and love that belongs in the shelf with something like A Tree Grows In Brooklyn. The band took the stage suddenly after what seemed an eternity of behind the curtain sound checks and tinkering. The melodiousness of Everclear's albums might mistakenly lead you astray from the fact that they are a pretty hardcore band. Draped in black and decorated from sleeve to wristwatch in tattoos, Art and Co. whirled and screamed with sheer angry abandon. The band remains rough. You get the impression that every show is somehow their first, mixing an absolute energy with a kind of rough virginal approach that is a powerful mixture. Only to the second song of the set, they busted into "Father of Mine," the bitter autobiographical superhit from So Much for the Afterglow. It speaks well of a band that they have the kind of catalog that allows them to just throw out a platinum single as the second song in the set. We recalled a comment we heard recently about U2's list of hits, and though they too could afford to use something like "Sunday Bloody Sunday" as a second song, the only thing that they have over Everclear in our opinion is hats and a God complex. "Heroin Girl." "Heartspark Dollarsign." "Santa Monica." One by one a marching parade of perfect soundtracks to our imperfect existence marched out to meet the willing ears of all and sundry. And what's more, the love of every step it took to conjure up these songs was beaming from Alexakis's face. The stage was bare save for a small banner reading "Everclear" in lowercase letters behind the band, and each member would look for the perfect opportunity to add an exclamation point on the end of a poignant line or passing riff to spin away and dash across the stage. Just to run. Just to run and not look back. The music that was being birthed at that concert was nothing but a fantastic forward freefall into a future free of the pain that loaded the damn catapult. Art Alexakis may still be learning how to smile, but it's not keeping him from teaching it to every audience he comes across.
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