OAR (acronym for Of A Revolution) and Dispatch have often been linked for their similar rock/reggae fusion sound that emerged on the college rock scene in the late 1990s and early 2000s. It’s no surprise that the two bands have joined forces for this season’s summer tour, which took place at Red Butte Garden Amphitheater on July 29.
G. Love opened with a solo set. Armed only with an acoustic guitar and a harmonica, he kicked off an evening of flowing music with driving hip-hop blues. He got the crowd singing with “The Juice” and enhanced the picnic atmosphere of Red Butte with “SoulBQue”, “Cold Beverage” and his recently released single “Laughing in the Sunshine”. He played a fun rhythm and blues version of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” then led the crowd in singing “Happy Birthday” to his wife before ending his set with “She’s the Rock.”
Dispatch is a ska/punk/college/rock/jam band, except when it’s not. On Friday night, they dizzily traversed so many genres and subgenres that it was hard to place them solidly in an emphatic box. They started with “Break Our Fall,” a new alternative rock release from 2021. Then there was “Only the Wild Ones,” a folk-rock track with a calypso-like beat. They changed paths to reggae-fusion, an early style from their college rock years. (I wonder if these festive Caribbean beats have a lifespan when performed by white millennials approaching 50.)
They covered Men At Work’s “Down Under” which was a crowd pleaser. I enjoyed “The Legend of Connie Hawkins”, which felt like a collaborative rock opera between ELP and Tom Petty. Dispatch goes back to 1997 with the fan-favorite track “Bang Bang”. At one point, they incorporated a bit of Dead’s “Friend of the Devil” into the hip-hop jam.
“Painted Yellow Lines” was a good piece of progressive rock, but they didn’t stay in those lines too long. “Flying Horses,” added Gaelic stomp to the mix, and their rendition of the American college rock anthem “Elias” was peppered with lyrics in Shona, a language spoken in Zimbabwe. Our journey around the world ended with the final number “The General”, a song that defines the group’s original reggae-infused indie rock sound with socially conscious lyrics. They recently recorded a new Russian-language version of this vintage version (are you listening, Mr. Putin?) They added some of the Russian lyrics for a celebratory conclusion to their set.
OAR and Dispatch share the same origin story of late ’90s college rock, but Dispatch took a nearly decade-long hiatus in the early 2000s. In contrast, over the past 25 years, OAR has refined its sound with a more traditional commercial texture. All that spit and polish was on display at the Red Butte Garden Amphitheater Friday night.
OAR opened with “I cross,” a fun song animated by the sax and the trumpet. There’s something about the horns, the sax in particular, that energizes all of his driving rock. (Thanks Bruce Springsteen and Clarence Clemons for showing us the way.)
The song, “Try Me,” featured light reggae drumming and brass inflections without trying to take us unauthentically to the Caribbean. They scored big with fan-favorite “Love and Memories,” a great rock number from 2005 that’s aging well. They followed that up with their biggest commercial hit “Shattered (Turn the Car Around)and took us to a full garden party. Singer Marc Roberge’s voice was tailor-made for the post-grunge and pop-punk sound that emerged in the early 2000s and still endures today. It’s dark but upbeat, with hints of boy band optimism.
Their new album The game room shows polished maturity without sacrificing their signature playfulness. They presented “What in the World” and brightened it up with their 2022 single “In the Clouds.” peace”. Jerry DePizzo delivered a great sax solo on “Heaven,” and G. Love joined the band and played on his harmonica for a cool rendition of Cash’s “Ring of Fire.”
OAR ended their set with their debut college radio hit “That Was a Crazy Game of Poker,” a genre-bending opus too long to air commercially, but perfect for a live grand finale. During the song playing cards sprayed the crowd from the stage (poker gun?) I picked up a handful of cards only to notice I had a six-high straight flush. True story (I’m not bluffing.)
Instead of an encore, Dispatch joined OAR for U2’s “With or Without You” and G. Love joined the set for a carefree rendition of “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine )” from REM.“I felt more than good after an uplifting performance by a talented group of musicians. I must salute two exceptional artists who are not “official” members of the OAR, but who are touring members. Jon Lampley of Huntertones played trumpet and backing vocals (and took the lead on a verse or two) and Mikel Paris rocked the keyboard. Both players brought noticeable depth to the performance. And, as always, the sound team at Garden delivered on their promises.
OAR and Dispatch support the multi-faith initiative to end mass incarceration (IME) in the United States. All profits from EMI merchandising go to the organization.
- Who: OAR, Dispatch and G. Love
- What: Reggae-infused indie rock
- Where: Red Butte Garden Amphitheater
- When: July 29, 2022
Discover the latest cultural and artistic news from the city and the state. And while you’re here, subscribe and get six issues of salt lake magazine, your guide to the best of living in Utah.