LOS ANGELES -- Fastball co-leader Tony Scalzo stared vacantly into the crowd
at the Troubadour, his voice riding smoothly on the words to his band's most well-known
His bass playing was almost mechanical. And, though his right leg moved to the rhythm
of the band's signature hit, "The Way," like the song says, "you could see his shadow
wandering off somewhere."
Scalzo sang "The
Way" (RealAudio excerpt) well, even exceptionally well. But that was a given.
What wasn't so obvious before he and his band took the stage was that this power-pop
trio from Austin, Texas, has more to offer -- more than a couple of songs devoured by
rock radio, and more than co-leader/guitarist Miles Zuniga's bright-red tennis shoes.
And Scalzo was out to prove it.
Fastball gave a no-nonsense show here Tuesday night, nailing one song after another
and never pausing for more than a few seconds in between. Scalzo, Zuniga, drummer
Joey Shuffield and touring guitarist Andy Blunda looked like they were having a ball as
they delivered 11 of their musically feel-good and lyrically pensive songs, drawn
primarily from their sophomore album, All the Pain Money Can Buy.
"They're a lot of fun," said show-goer Hank Chilton, 28. "I like that not all their songs
sound the same. That hit sounds like everything else on the radio, but their other songs
are different, more varied and interesting."
Fastball come together around Scalzo and Zuniga's songwriting. In performance, the two
alternated on lead vocals, providing an engaging variety. Each has his charm. Scalzo
had a shaggy-slacker look with his curly brown hair, oversized jeans and gray T-shirt.
Zuniga, sporting the mod, jagged, wet look, looked like he'd gotten his hair cut at that
trendy place where all those Brit-pop guys must go.
"Every time we come to L.A., we play some kind of big, concrete bunker," Zuniga said
early in the show.
"I like to be in a club where I can see all the faces," he added with a twang, squinting into
Zuniga -- dressed in a green shirt, black jeans and red tennis shoes -- played with
passion, eyes often closed, the tilt of his head changing as he developed his riffs.
Toward the end of "Damaged Goods," on which he sang lead while Scalzo harmonized,
Zuniga drew screams from the girls in front of the stage when he lifted his head to the
microphone for the final verse.
"Wow, you scared me," he said and smiled, explaining that "Damaged Goods" cured him
of returning to dead-end relationships. "You know, there's a reason why you broke up
the first 18 times," he said.
Some of the show's subtler moments were standouts, including the moody "Slow Drag"
and the melancholy encore "Sweetwater Texas," both sung by Zuniga. Scalzo's
dislocation anthem, the buoyant, crunchy rocker "Nowhere Road," testified to Fastball's
knack for melodic hooks powerfully delivered.
The show opened with singer/songwriter Joan Jones, who released her debut solo
album, Starlite Criminal, this month.
As she played guitar on the rocker "Party" or trumpet in the musical breaks of "Starlight
Criminal," Jones -- who formerly led the folk-pop outfit Sun-60 -- showed a well-rounded
musical talent for her crafted and engaging pop tunes.
"She's kick-ass when she whips out that trumpet," said fan Shawn Foster, 22. "She's got
a lot of talent, and I think she's using it in a smart, compelling way."