Live Report: Dispatch & O.A.R. at the Hollywood Palladium (7/16/22)

Bands: Dispatch, O.A.R., G. Love

Venue: Hollywood Palladium

Date: July 16, 2022

For fans of reggae-influenced, collage jam band rock, the line-up at the Hollywood Palladium last Saturday was stacked! A tour a long time in the making thanks to Covid, these three heavy-hitting live acts packed the Los Angeles venue and brought an evening of great vibes and musicianship.

Philadelphia’s G. Love opened the show with an acoustic set sans the Special Sauce. I have always been more of an admirer of G. Love than true fan. He has some songs I really love (“Free At Last”, “Astronaut”), but I feel like most of his music fits in best to specific occasions and isn’t something I can listen to at all times (sidenote: I would love to hear him attempt a haunting, southern gothic-style album. With his blues skills, I think he could kill it). On stage, Mr. Garrett Dutton brings purely good vibes, and his fans love him with a passion. This was clear in the enthused call-and-response he got on the peace-loving protest song “The Juice”. While I made my feelings about songs like “SoulBQue” known in my review of his album The Juice, his fans still ate up the good-time lyrics of that track. I think songs like his follow-ups “Gimme Some Lovin'” and “She’s the Rock” are stronger tracks, with the former showing off G. Love‘s more delicate side with some lovely finger-picked acoustic melodies, and the latter being one of his stronger lyrical songs. He ended his set with the hip-hop influenced new track “Love from Philly”, and left having done his part to warm up the audience for the evening.

I have been a fan of O.A.R. for over twenty years, introduced to them by a friend during a trip to Boston, since they weren’t well known on the west coast yet. This night was my first time seeing them live, and they did not disappoint. Playing in support of a new album that dropped this last Friday (sadly missed it for our weekly round-up, but it was a very congested New Music Friday last week). The band has a way to make every song they play rousing, with the six-piece band sounding exquisite in the large Palladium auditorium. They also crafted a splendid setlist, opening the night with their inspiring 2016 single “I Go Through”, which the audience knew all the words to, and then went into new track “Inside Out”, which had a buoyant quality and felt like it could appear in a Pixar film. The set really took off for me with the personal favorite “City on Down”, which the band dove into with gusto. The small melodic shifts and new lyrical emphases in the live performance gave the song renewed life, and while the extended ending wasn’t really needed, hearing the song still helped make the evening for me.

Next was one of the band’s more straight-ahead rock singles, “Love and Memories”, which kept the fists pumping and the energy high. Frontman Marc Roberge gave a touching intro to next song “California”, dedicating the 2019 track to his brother and all parents who support their children in their dreams. It’s a beautiful song, and a reminder that the band is still writing great songs two decades into their career. One of the things that has always separated O.A.R. from other jam-influence groups is their ability to keep their songwriting both focused, not fearing hooks or memorable choruses, and emotional. The band knows how to tap into the hearts of listeners, both through Roberge’s vocals and in their musical arrangements. They do this perfectly on their breakout single “Shattered (Turn the Car Around)”, which had members of the crowd spinning their fingers in a “turn around” motion as the pop track connected.

The band’s latest single “In the Clouds” very much sounds like O.A.R. of 2022, still recognizably them, but with a dreamy chorus that feels like it could find TikTok virality at some point. So far it’s found some decent love at Hot AC radio, so here is hoping it continues to find an audience across generations. Following this came the moment I was waiting for; the song that introduced me to the band – the epic “Crazy Game of Poker”. The crowd went nuts at this moment, tossing playing cards into the air, jumping up and down and chanting every word. Following this huge song, the more somber “Peace” felt almost like an afterthought, though the band picked things up once more for catchy closer “Hey Girl”.

While I have seen Chadwick Stokes’ side projects State Radio and his band The Pintos live before, I had yet to see Dispatch live, and admit to not being as familiar with their catalogue as I was with O.A.R.’s. While both bands takes cues from jam band and reggae artists, O.A.R. draw more from pop/pop rock than Dispatch, who infuse a healthy dose of punk into both their sound and their politically charged lyrics. Though what helps Dispatch stand above many other punks in their lyrical approach is how they share their messages through narrative songwriting, often drawing from true stories of those who have been victims of bigotry or corruption. There’s also a journeyman quality to the band, with their stories of railway riders, outlaws and drifters, such as in their excellent single “Only the Wild Ones”, which they opened their set with. It’s the type of song you imagine listening to while sleeping out under the stars while backpacking through America.

Their second track of the evening was the excellent “Open Up”, one of the songs that introduced me to the band ages ago, and which remains one of their strongest examples of narrative songwriting being used to indict the system which allows false accusations to prevail on innocent men to be wrongfully arrested. And it’s a song that’s as smart as it is catchy, allowing it to really dig its way into listeners’ consciousness. They did this again on the biting “Skin the Rabbit”, a furious, propulsive number.

The group then went back in time to play fan favorite “Bang Bang”, which received cheers from the audience who joyfully sang along. The band weaved in some of “Friend of the Devil” into the track, a reminder of their musical dexterity and improvisational influences. One of the next stand-out moments was the elegiac “Flying Horses”, with its airy pop leanings, and then the tribal “Elias”, which thrilled the audience and had some members jumping up and down with excitement. Like the two previous acts, Dispatch‘s fanbase are rabidly passionate, with extreme dedication to the group’s older albums. This isn’t to say they didn’t respond well to newer tracks like the driving rocker “Break Our Fall” (a heartfelt tribute to a cousin of Chadwick’s who died young). It just means that when they played “The General”, the room transformed from a concert into a communion, with everyone (including myself) singing every word to the anti-war anthem.

Following a fiery “Bats in the Belfry”, the band left the stage briefly, before returning with members of O.A.R. in tow. Admitting the next number would be more of a full-room karaoke session, the bands went into a joint cover of the R.E.M. classic “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)”, which you can watch a clip of at the top of the page. It was a fun if ragged and rough cover. More polished was the closing performance of “Letter to Lady J”, which got the audience dancing. Both bands then bid farewell to the audience and closed out the evening.

While all of the acts have earner their share of gold singles and records, these are not radio bands. They are kings of the live show, and will impress both fans and those unfamiliar with the acts (I overheard some very happy attendees who were newly initiated into band fandoms). If you’re not familiar with them, you can check out their tour joint playlist here, and do try to catch them on other tour dates!

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