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Deafening DeGraw Weakens Show

Vocals Overpowered by Guitars for Opener and Main Act

By Minyoung Jang

Gavin DeGraw

Paradise Rock Club

April 4, 8 p.m.

I’m the guy you didn’t pay to see.” If opener Matt Wertz knew how well his self-deprecating words would predict the entire night, perhaps he wouldn’t have said them. This is not to say that the Kansas City, MO, native wasn’t talented and totally likable -- he was clearly both as he radiated Midwestern charm, told stories in a disarmingly humorous fashion, and performed and sang in a heartfelt manner. However, his words were an unfortunate preview of headliner Gavin DeGraw’s set.

After his initial remark, Wertz launched into his first song with energetic, sometimes seemingly frenzied strumming and thumping on his acoustic guitar. His smoky voice and breathy singing immediately recalled artists such as John Mayer, although it was often difficult to hear words or vocals on more upbeat songs. Because of this, there seemed to be a lack of catchy pop hooks as well. But to be fair, both problems may have had more to do with poor mix levels than Wertz himself. Overall, he was a very good opener and performed admirably, considering he had no band with him.

Despite the fact that Gavin DeGraw was the headliner of the show, it seemed like he wasn’t the one the audience had paid to see either. He opened with a nice variation of the intro to “Over-rated,” yet it went downhill from the moment the rest of his band kicked in full force.

It was immediately noticeable that the guitar player was far too loud. To their credit, the heavy guitar playing did provide the unmistakably energetic feel of a rock concert. This tactic seemed slightly amateurish though, as blasting out eardrums is hardly a prerequisite for a “concert atmosphere.” I spent most of the concert missing the sounds of DeGraw’s trademark catchy piano playing and more importantly, his voice. All were smothered by the guitar player. Indeed, the two friends that accompanied me and didn’t really know the songs or lyrics well said that eventually all the songs started to sound the same because all they heard was loud guitars. It was unclear whether we had paid to see Gavin DeGraw or his guitarist.

However, there were a few times when the volume level on the guitar was appreciated. After performing “Just Friends” and “[Nice to Meet You] Anyway,” DeGraw and company played “Follow Through.” The heavy guitar was fun to listen and dance along to during the bridge of this song. That was the way it should have been for the whole show -- Gavin accompanied by his bandmates, with really strong and technical playing reserved mostly for climaxes and vocal interludes.

Likewise, I enjoyed the aggressive guitar playing on “Chemical Party.” When listening to the album, this song always makes me cringe and inevitably skip to the next track. When heard live though, it was less cheesy and a lot more fun, especially with a segue into Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Proud Mary.”

But in general, the deafening -- albeit skillful -- guitar playing detracted from the experience rather than added to it. I had to feel, rather than hear, the bass lines and drum beats and was none too happy when I could barely hear the beautiful opening to “Belief” because I still had a buzzing sound in my ears from “Meaning” and another unreleased song.

Just as disappointing was the limited interaction between DeGraw and the audience, as he spoke to us less than the opener did. This was a shame, considering how much fun both he and the audience seemed to have when he performed Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get it On” while dancing on tables, shaking the hands of screaming female fans, and encouraging everyone to sing along. The set was rounded out with “Crush,” “I Don’t Want to Be,” “More Than Anyone,” and a very loud and more intense version of “Chariot.”

When we finally could hear DeGraw himself sing and play, the show was technically over and he had come back for an encore. Even then, the vocals were turned up so high that they had a fuzzy quality to them, ruining the intimate feeling of a small to mid-sized venue like the Paradise. Nevertheless, his performance of two new songs, “Dancing Shoes,” “Dreams,” and a cover of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” truly showcased Gavin DeGraw’s talent and made me glad that I had had the chance to see him live.

Undoubtedly, the show was good, but I was disappointed that it wasn’t excellent when it easily could have been. Everyone on stage was obviously experienced and that fact shone through in their cohesive style of performing. Perhaps next time they’ll realize that for all intents and purposes, people are there to see Gavin DeGraw rather than individual bandmates and will sound-check accordingly.