Although they started their band as teenagers in Rockville, Maryland, the founding members of O.A.R. honed their act playing the fraternities and sororities of The Ohio State University, where they built a word-of-mouth following in the late 1990s.
They eventually became big enough to sell out Madison Square Garden in 2006.
Even after 20 years of touring and mainstream success, O.A.R.’s college roots still show in their music — a blend of emo-pop and the sort of watered down reggae-funk that goes well with frat parties and cheap beer.
It’s a formula that O.A.R. has been refining for decades, and they had more than enough hook- filled tunes — paired with a feel-good communal vibe — to keep the Palace Theatre crowd on their feet throughout the band’s two-hour performance Thursday night.
While there were lots of college-age fans at the Palace — along with enthusiastic screaming, occasional rowdiness and spilled beer — there were plenty of older fans in the almost-full theatre as well.
Sometimes considered a jam band, O.A.R. isn’t really. Songs tend to be carefully structured and lack digressions. But the band has inspired a similar grassroots devotion through lots of touring and the trading of live recordings (tonight’s was officially on sale after the show).
Still, O.A.R. lacks the worldly and more consequential import of Dave Matthews Band — this is light rock for sure. Although their name stands for “Of A Revolution,” songs were more likely to be slick, sing-along pop tunes about partying and hooking up.
For this tour, drummer Chris Culos, lead singer Marc Roberge, guitarist Richard On, bassist Benj Gershman and saxophonist Jerry DePizzo let the crowd vote online for the songs that would make up the set list.
Opener “Peace” was a well-received ballad about making romantic peace, not global accord.
“Black Rock” brought a feather-weight reggae shuffle to a tune about friendship. “Dareh Meyod,” with a dub beat and catchy refrain, was better — especially thanks to DePizzo’s muscular sax.
Given the audience’s role in song selection, and O.A.R.’s record of hits, there were plenty of crowd pleasers to sustain the energy of the night. “Hey Girl” was undeniably catchy, and the grandiose “Shattered (Turn the Car Around)” was a huge crowd sing-along marred only by a loud clunk that rattled the stage at the end of the song.
Undaunted, the band finished the set on a high note for fans with a volley of hits, including “About an Hour Ago,” “Night Shift,” “City on Down” and “That Was a Crazy Game of Poker.” Like a watery brew – and the band’s soulless cover of Bob Marley’s “Stir it Up” – it all went down fairly easy but left a questionable taste and the potential for a lingering headache.
Opener The Hunts were an unexpected treat. The band of seven young siblings — including twin sisters — from Virginia mined the indie folk-revivalism of bands like Mumford & Sons.
It’s a popular sound right now, fueled by sentimental themes and old-timey instrumentation, but they had a genuine air and a true talent for songwriting.
Their mother did a brisk business manning their merch table after the show.