Review: O.A.R. and Dispatch With G. Love at Red Butte Garden

O.A.R. (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 would join forces for this season’s summer tour, which came to the Red Butte Garden Amphitheatre on July 29.

G. Love opened with a solo set. Armed with only an acoustic guitar and harmonica, he kicked-off an evening of genre-fluid music with some lively hip-hop blues. He got the crowd singing along to “The Juice” and enhanced Red Butte’s picnic atmosphere with “SoulBQue,” “Cold Beverage” and his recently released single “Laughing in the Sunshine.” He played a fun rhythm and blues take on Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” and 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 they’re not. On Friday night they moved dizzyingly through so many genres and subgenres that it was hard to place them solidly in any categorical box. They opened with “Break Our Fall,” a newer alt-rock release from 2021. Next up was “Only the Wild Ones,” a folk-rock tune with a calypso-like rhythm. They changed lanes into reggae-fusion, an early style from their college rock years. (I wonder if those festive Caribbean beats have a shelf life when performed by white millennials approaching middle age.) 

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 reached back to 1997 with the fan-favorite sing-along “Bang Bang.” At one point they incorporated a bit of the Dead’s “Friend of the Devil” into the hip-hoppy jam. 

G. Love
G. Love (Photo courtesy Red Butte Garden)

“Painted Yellow Lines” was a nice progressive rock number, but they didn’t stay within those lines for too long. “Flying Horses,” added Gaelic foot-stomping to the set, and their performance of the American college rock anthem “Elias” was peppered with lyrics in Shona, a language spoken in Zimbabwe. Our trip around the globe concluded with the final number “The General,” a song that defines the band’s original reggae-infused indie rock sound with socially-conscious lyrics. They recently recorded a new Russian language version of this vintage release (are you listening, Mr. Putin?) They added a few of the Russian lyrics for a festive conclusion to their set.

O.A.R. and Dispatch share the same late ’90s college party rock origin story, but Dispatch took a nearly decade-long hiatus in the early 2000s. In contrast, over the past 25 years, O.A.R. refined their sound with a more mainstream commercial texture. All that spit and polish was on display at Red Butte Garden Amphitheatre Friday night.

O.A.R. opened with “I Go Through,” a fun song brought to life with the sax and trumpet. There is something about brass, the sax especially, that energizes any driving rock sound. (Thank you Bruce Springsteen and Clarence Clemons for showing us the way.)

The song,“Try Me,” included light reggae percussion and brass inflections without trying to take us unauthentically to the Caribbean. They scored big with fan favorite “Love and Memories,” a great aught rock number from 2005 that ages well. They followed it up with their biggest commercial hit “Shattered (Turn the Car Around)” and carried us into a full-on garden party. Lead singer Marc Roberge’s voice was tailor made for the post-grunge, pop-punk sound that emerged in the early 2000s and carries through to today. It’s broody yet upbeat, with hints of boy-band optimism.

O.A.R.
O.A.R. (Photo courtesy Red Butte Garden)

Their new album The Arcade shows a polished maturity without sacrificing their signature playfulness. They showcased “What in the World” and jazzed it up with their 2022 single “In the Clouds.” The audience lit up their phones like the Bic lighters of yesteryear and illuminated the mountain with little dots of white light for “Peace.” Jerry DePizzo delivered a great sax solo on “Heaven,” and G. Love joined the band and jammed on his harmonica for a cool rendition of Cash’s “Ring of Fire.” 

O.A.R. ended their set with their first college radio hit “That Was a Crazy Game of Poker,” a genre-meandering opus too long for commercial airplay, but perfect for a live grand finale. During the song playing cards showered the crowd from the stage (a poker gun?)  I collected a handful of cards only to notice I held a six-high straight flush. True story (I’m not bluffing.)

Instead of an encore, Dispatch joined O.A.R. for U2’s “With or Without You” and G. Love joined the whole ensemble for a carefree rendition of R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine).” I felt more than fine after an uplifting performance by a group of talented musicians. I need to give a shout-out to two standout performers who are not “official” members of O.A.R., but are touring members. Jon Lampley of Huntertones played trumpet and backing vocals (and took lead for a verse or two) and Mikel Paris rocked the keyboard. Both players brought a noticeable depth to the performance. And, as always, the Garden sound crew delivered.

Both O.A.R. and Dispatch support the multi-faith initiative to End Mass Incarceration (EMI) in the US. All proceeds from EMI merch benefit the organization. 

  • Who: O.A.R., Dispatch and G. Love
  • What: Reggae-infused indie rock
  • Where: Red Butte Garden Amphitheatre
  • When: July 29, 2022

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John Nelson
John Nelsonhttps://www.saltlakemagazine.com/
John Nelson covers the local music scene for Salt Lake magazine. He is a 20-year veteran of Uncle Sam’s Flying Circus with a lifelong addiction to American roots music, live music venues, craft beer and baseball.

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