Fruit Bats at SOhO

Portland Rockers Deliver Crisp, Clean Wednesday Night Set

The Fruit Bats play clean, breezy music about young love and morning light, and they play it well. Their show at SOhO last Wednesday night, with openers Gardens and Villa and Extra Classic, delivered the same pretty simplicity, heartfelt crooning, and mellow late-‘60s guitar riffs found on their records, without much divergence from the studio sound. The resulting set made for a great show if you’re a diehard Fruit Bats fan and, if you’re not, took their music from dreamy to sleepy.

In Santa Barbara, comparing a band’s vibe to Jack Johnson is a compliment, so we’ll just leave the comparisons at that. Like the beloved Gaucho alum, the Bats frontman Eric Johnson sings upbeat love songs that are perfect background music for a drive along the coast or a mellow campfire. That said, neither Johnson nor Fruit Bats are entirely capable of rocking a venue, though both can certainly cause a steady shake, punctuated by gentle humming and impassioned hand-clapping.

All that said, and when consumed in conjunction with a couple of beers, Wednesday’s show was really fun. The group played plenty of songs off their latest album, The Ruminant Band, whose title track showcases Doobie Brothers harmonies with sprawling Allman Brothers guitar solos. The audience also bopped their heads with particular affection to “Tegucigalpa,” whose bright melody echoed The Beatles’ Rubber Soul sone up with Decemberist-style vocals. Likewise, the entire crowd looked past Usher-inspired spelling and traded the bar for the dance floor during the 2006 hit, “When U Love Somebody.”

To be clear, giving the Fruit Bats a bad review is like disliking puppies and rainbows and world peace because their music is just so darn nice. They ignore all modern hipster conventions of irony and play genuinely-sweet, sunny music that sounds like it arrived via time machine, mud-covered and optimism-soaked, straight from Woodstock. At the same time, maybe David Foster Wallace has fully infiltrated this writer’s psyche, because nice music seems just too good to be true for 2010.


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