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College band plays for landlocked desert

By Justine Pechuzal
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday Feb. 8, 2002

O.A.R. introduces 'island-vibe-roots-rock' to landlocked desert

The band O.A.R. does not want to row your boat, but they might want to rock it.

When the musical quintet rolls into town next weekend, what it wants is to share a little "Of A Revolution" with the Tucson audience. (The band's name is pronounced "O"-"A"-"R;" those who say "oar" are not invited backstage.)

The concert promises an upbeat sound dominated by rock with hints of reggae, folk and ska. Band members have their own term for their music - "island-vibe-roots-rock."

The reggae-textured sound of O.A.R. is undeniable. Saxophonist Jerry DePizzo cites Bob Dylan, Bob Marley and U2 as the band's musical influences.

"We're a touring band," DePizzo said. "We don't push stuff on the radio. That's not why we do (music)."

A relative unknown in a world of big-name record labels, O.A.R.'s musical journey mirrors that of the Dave Matthews Band. Initially a college band, O.A.R. gained regional popularity in the Midwest by word of mouth. The original fan base in Columbus, Ohio spread to other cities in the state, then to other states.

In the midst of its second tour across the United States, the band is poised to promote its music through live performance to an even broader audience on the West Coast.

O.A.R.'s success, reached without the aid of a major record label deal and promotional assistance, is the result of a continued dedication to making music.

"Right now, we're not interested in a record deal," DePizzo said. "We can do it on our own. It enables us to get out as much as possible and still call all the shots."

The band's success could be interpreted as a positive signal that creative, new music with a wide audience can still be made without corporate sponsorship. DePizzo credits the band's exposure to a music-hungry fan base circulating CDs and tapes, as well as the Internet.

Live performance is O.A.R.'s forte in part because the group performs without a set list.

"Someone in the audience yells out a song (and) we'll play it," DePizzo said.

Like a Phish show, the performance pulses with loose and free energy, complete with spontaneously invented lyrics and long music jams. O.A.R.'s popular song "That was a Crazy Game of Poker" is infamous for its 20-minute concert duration, and is never performed the same way twice.

The band's history began in junior high when founding members Marc Roberge and Chris Culos experimented with music in a basement. Their pursuit of music continued through high school and followed them to college at Ohio State University, while the number of band members grew in accordance with the group's reputation. The band sold CDs out of a car trunk and performed whenever possible, squeezing in weekend shows around college classes.

The band consists of Culos on drums, DiPizzo on saxophone, Benj Gershman on bass, Richard On playing guitar, and Roberge, lead singer and guitarist. It has released three albums, the most recent being Risen. O.A.R. also plans to release a live album later this spring.

Although the band has fared well in nearly all aspects of music production, it had experienced a few kinks while touring.

"Last tour, we almost wrecked the bus three or four times. We almost flipped over an embankment and had to jump out the window," DiPizzo said. "A wheel fell off the trailer. We hit a deer and the generator broke. All this happened within a week."

Hopefully the ride down I-10 to Tucson will be smoother.

The band performs at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St., at 8 p.m. on Feb. 17. Tickets are $17.50 for general admission and $15 for students and are available at all Zia's locations and at Zip's on University Boulevard.


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