H.O.R.D.E. Grows Away From Its Roots

Barenaked Ladies and Mighty Mighty Bosstones vary the sound of the usually jam-laden summer tour.

TINLEY PARK, Ill. -- From the stage of the World Music Theatre,

Barenaked Ladies vocalist Steven Page surveyed the crowd that had convened

for the Chicago-area stop of the H.O.R.D.E. (Horizons of Rock Developing

Everywhere) tour.

"Are there any hippies in the house?" Page yelled. And, of course, there were.

Hippies are as much a part of H.O.R.D.E. tours as tanktop tan-lines and navel

rings.

So what else is new?

Well, this year, plenty.

The seventh edition of the annual H.O.R.D.E. festival has slimmed down,

jam-wise, and added an eclectic array of bands that expand the tour's

roots-driven tradition. Yes, tour staple Blues Traveler are in the bluesy, jamming

mode and Ben Harper and Gov't Mule have their rock-ier aspects.

But this year's H.O.R.D.E. lineup includes a wide range of other acts, from the

unbridled ska sounds of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones to the quirky crowd

routines of the Barenaked Ladies to the softer shadings of Alana Davis and

Paula Cole. On some dates the H.O.R.D.E. will also include such modern-rock

stars as Fastball and the Smashing Pumpkins.

While the new lineup had its musical points, the lack of a defining stylistic theme

contributed to the feeling that a lot of concert-goers were merely killing time

waiting for specific acts. As Lisa Telling of Chicago said, "Blues Traveler are the

only reason to be here. The rest of the bands suck." She paused, then added,

"except for Ben Harper."

The shifting focus, however, was good news to some. "H.O.R.D.E. will be good

as long as John Popper doesn't do any 30-minute harmonica solos," Scott

Crooks, a three-year H.O.R.D.E. veteran from Chicago, said.

As is the case with most tours, the bottom line on the new H.O.R.D.E. slant will

be decided by the bottom line. Thus far, it hasn't been encouraging. Without

such crowd-pleasers of the past as jam-rock favorites Dave Matthews Band and

blues-rock vets the Black Crowes, this year's H.O.R.D.E. has had to contend

with venues that have been less than full. The opening date of the tour last

week in Minneapolis was even scrapped due to slow ticket sales.

But the show -- and the tour -- is slogging on. Davis opened with a brief set of

four songs, and Cole followed with an hour of songs that set the mostly mellow

tone of the day. Many concert-goers chose to spend the afternoon sunning

themselves on the lawn, playing cards and napping under the perfect, cloudless

Chicago sky.

Later in the afternoon, Harper warmed up the crowd, emotionally and

physically. His set artfully swung through various moods, starting as slow and

languid as the day itself and building with more guitar and percussion. Now and

then, there were acoustic lulls, but these soon gave way to swelling sonic

crests. At the end, Harper stood at center stage -- no mic and no guitar --

swaying while the music swirled around him.

The Barenaked Ladies then abruptly changed the pace, with a crowd-winning

set that was witty and uproarious. They peppered their act with well-known fan

cues (when to throw Kraft dinners, or wave their shirts), and then improvised in

response to what was going on around them at the time. At this show, the

Ladies took their inspiration from a festival organization that was giving out

condoms. Midway through their set they launched into the "female condom

jam."

The refrain, "Who needs sex when you've got female condoms," galvanized the

crowd.

Before the group's set, singer Page said that the interactive parts of their shows

go over well with crowds. "It's not as much of an inside joke as people think," he

said, adding that as the tour progresses, the Ladies will be playing more songs

from their new disc, Stunt. "By the end of summer people will have gotten

to know [the album] better," Page said.

The Ladies' set was also enhanced by the unusual seating policy at this year's

H.O.R.D.E. shows. According to the tour's program, the pavilion seats are open

to anyone until the last two sets -- unless the ticket-holder of the seat shows up.

So, during the Barenaked Ladies' third-to-last slot, the pavilion was filled with

fans who had turned out to see them specifically. The effect was electrifying. On

the sing-along to "Brian Wilson," 10,000 voices carried the hit word-for-word in a

display that sent chills.

"I have one of their albums, but I think I'll go out and pick up some more,"

Crooks said.

Headlining the second stage, Gov't Mule seemed intent on defining themselves

as an entity separate from the Allman Brothers, from whom they have now fully

split. "Everything else was just foreplay," drummer Matt Abts explained. "This

year we're really fuckin'."

Will they win over fans of say, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones?

"If you're a music fan, why not?" singer/guitarist Warren Haynes said. Abts

agreed. "If we had horns, we'd probably be a ska band."

The Bosstones put on a fairly traditional set, mixing up old classics such as

"Where Did You Go" with their better-known recent hits "Royal Oil" and

HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Mighty_Mighty_Bosstones,_The/The_Impr

ession_That_I_Get.ram">"The Impression That I Get" (RealAudio

excerpt). They were joined onstage by Popper for two songs, including a

Bosstones fave, Bob Marley's "Simmer Down."

Lead growler Dickey Barrett was proud to have Popper's harmonica join the

Bosstones' already-rich lineup. "What a life!" he told the crowd. "Theoretically I

should be tending bar or working on your roof, but I get to play with John

Popper."

Headliners Blues Traveler have the easiest musical task at this year's

H.O.R.D.E. Basically all they have to do is trot out their usual blues-based

jamming style to keep their fans happy, which they did during their closing set.

Chris Cormier, a Blues Traveler fan from Chicago, is following H.O.R.D.E. for

the first part of the tour through the Midwest. He said he couldn't have been

happier with the set the group played at the festival's opening at Alpine Valley.

While waiting for Blues Traveler to take the stage at this stop, he showed off the

tattoo on his arm of the late Beatles leader John Lennon and said, "They closed

with 'Imagine.' I cried."