Power/pop/roots/rock supergroup The Baseball Project brought its traveling roadshow to Bend’s Silver Moon Brewing & Taproom Thursday night, and in the spirit of the night’s primary subject, let’s grade the participants in baseball terms.
The band itself wasn’t exactly at MVP level, though I thought they were considerably better live than on their new album, “Volume 2: High and Inside.” On record, The Baseball Project’s songs fall just a bit flat; their hooks — and they are there — seem obscured by the efforts of songwriters Steve Wynn and Scott McCaughey to squeeze every statistic, every name, every syllable into their story songs. Live, however, the band crackled with energy. Their guitars buzzed and their power chords crunched and their voices sounded strong and most importantly, their hooks shined through. What’s the difference? It was the power of a tight band of skilled, veteran players in action.
And then there are the songs, which are a lot of fun and mostly good, if not great. Songs about Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Big Ed Delahanty. Ichiro Suzuki and Tim Lincecum. Plus their epic tale of pitcher Harvey Haddix’s legendary outing that includes the names of all 20 men who’ve thrown a perfect game in baseball history. (Wynn’s also cramming in the name of Armando Galarraga, the Venezuelan righthander who lost a perfect game on a terrible call with two outs in the ninth inning of a game last year.)
If you’re a baseball geek — and especially if you’re a baseball geek in your 40s, 50s or 60s — The Baseball Project is heaven wrapped in Baby Boomer nostalgia. Fortunately, much of the Silver Moon crowd seemed to fit the description. There were several older dudes there: a couple in Yankees hats, one in a Mariners hat, and one in a Padres uniform. All wore smiles. It was the oldest average age I’ve ever seen at the Moon, a fact solidified by the contingent of R.E.M. fanboys there to see that band’s guitarist/co-founder, Peter Buck, play bass between Wynn and McCaughey. There might’ve been some photos taken of fans posing with a half-smiling Buck sitting next to a roadcase stenciled with “R.E.M. Athens, Ga.” (I’m an R.E.M. fan, but probably don’t qualify as a fanboy, and even I thought it was very cool to see Buck — one of the most influential guitar players of the past 30 years — perform in such a small space.)
All that said, the highlight of the band’s two sets was a scorching performance of “Amphetamine,” a tune from Wynn’s solo album “Here Come the Miracles.” It closed the first set, featured some spellbinding guitar work from Wynn and McCaughey, and was by far the most electric, energetic five minutes of the night. Frankly, it was awesome.
Add it all up, and I’d say The Baseball Project made the all-star team, not as a starter, but as a backup who gets into the game in the fourth or fifth inning and maybe comes up with an important hit or catch near the end of the game. A solid effort all around.
Now, the crowd. Or rather, Bend. Twenty-four hours after more than 1,000 people showed up to see Ice Cube across the street at the Midtown Ballroom, I’d guess fewer than 100 caught The Baseball Project, and that was throughout the night. I don’t know if there were ever more than 50 people in the room at one time. And that’s a real shame. It’s also a trend. I’ve been to too many good shows by good bands that drew too-small crowds in the past year. It’s lame. Shame on you, Bend.
The saving grace came in the second half of the show when Wynn asked if the audience was having a good time, and someone immediately returned the question to the band. The four folks on stage — even the stoic Buck — quickly responded in the affirmative, and they seemed to mean it. Assuming they were telling the truth, it’s nice to know the small crowd didn’t bum them out too much.
And so, everyone in Bend except for the folks who showed up Thursday night is a benchwarmer, stuck in the dugout while others are out there having a good time playing a kid’s game.