O.A.R. embraces its uncool jam roots at ACL Fest

At the Honda Stage, O.A.R. began with a riff on OutKast’s funk opus “Spottieottiedopaliscious.” The seven-piece band, including a bright horn section, offered Margaritaville-appropriate, tropically tinged entrance rock to Austin City Limits patrons and their sealed bottled water.

“I took this girl out last night, we left around 12,” sang frontman Marc Roberge on “Hey Girl,” before his keyboardist dropped a fluttering solo.

O.A.R. performs during weekend two of the Austin City Limits Music Festival at Zilker Park in Austin, Texas, on Friday, Oct. 13, 2017. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Two hours earlier in front of a modest crowd of early risers, meditative singer Ron Gallo used the brooding and intimate “All the Punks Are Domesticated” to dismissively riff on the state of things: He hates the “rock ‘n roll matinee, songs about sunny days, or love in a pretty way” sounds that perennially seize pop. Gallo finished his hardworking set by declaring, “Sorry not everybody looks like you.”

I bet he’d hate O.A.R., perhaps the most terminally uncool rock band of the past 20 years.

Originating in the D.C. suburb of Rockville, Maryland, in 1996, these chill bros who sing like they don’t have any problems that can’t be solved with a swipe on their GrubHub app came of age back when jam music was alive and well. They sing about poker games and relationships that deteriorated despite being “amazing.” Their fans lived in late-‘90s frat houses, enjoyed limes in beer, flip-flops, and put bent bottlecaps on the brims of their hats. Guitarist Richard On’s acoustic strumming was often played in post-Sublime island time. (I think that’s because, from Maine to the Outer Banks, the summer house populous that frequents the eastern seaboard loves reggae.)

Back at the Honda Stage, D.C. and Maryland flags waved in approval. What the band lacks in anthemic rock it makes up for in ska-friendly bass lines and impeccable musicianship. When everyone onstage can solo, you have a well-oiled convertible that mixes in lyrics about daughters running off to Austin.

It was unpretentious and optimistic. Like how some music fans walk into a Rainey Street bar and roll their eyes at the aimless entertainment, but most bob their hands up and down with the grooves. And so Roberge’s acoustic guitar included a taped-on message for the masses: “Life is beautiful.”

O.A.R. performs during weekend two of the Austin City Limits Music Festival at Zilker Park in Austin, Texas, on Friday, Oct. 13, 2017. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

His banter was hushed, though his songs are loquacious odes to livin’ good.

“It’s been a while since we got to play here, we’re so thankful,” he told us, finally, 25 minutes in during the drum intro to “Shattered.”

Landing somewhere between the Calling, Lifehouse, and “The OC” soundtrack, 2005’s “Stories Of a Stranger” is an epic relic of mid-2000s Target rock. (Because you’d hear it at Target while trying on pants.) Ditching the party grooves for Rob Thomas-ian light rock, Roberge proved he can write schlock with anyone.

“How many times can I break till I shatter?” he sang on the hook.

The band retains a present fan base—even at 2:30pm while a huge swath of ACL patrons are wrapping up work.

“Our first show was at the 8th-grade talent show,” he said before new one “I Go Through,” and turning pensive: “This song’s about now.”

It’s an ode to “family,” and looking back on a life that’s moved too fast. You want to groan, but a capable musician singing from the heart is Teflon.

“We weren’t going to play this one but it just feels right,” Roberge said before “Peace.” It’s a hokey acoustic ballad fit to soundtrack a date scene on “The Bachelor.”

“I just want to hold you till you fall asleep,” the band sang as the couple in front of me held hands.

Suddenly an extra pair of horn players led a four-strong brass line through “That Was a Crazy Game of Poker,” a closing song that was half ska and half Lumineers. Roberge scatted, while fans tossed playing cards in the sky. It gave me secondhand embarrassment, but it played more earnest than a kindergarten art project.

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