Rock fans just aren’t all that picky in this day and age about what they listen to. And go crazy for. Serving as a perfect example, were Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band as active as they used to be, Needtobreathe would not able to get arrested, much less fill the Orpheum Theatre as they did May 1st. The outfit’s musicianship is reasonably adequate, but the songwriting is mediocre on top of which frontman and lead singer Bear Rinehart doesn’t have an original bone in his body. In fact, song after song, phrase for phrase, his vocals put you in mind of someone who always wanted to grow up and sound exactly like Bob Seger. Imitation, here, isn’t the sincerest form of flattery: it’s the surest form of failure. Seger—albeit clearly influenced by seminal pioneer Little Richard, did it first and did it with feeling, not as anyone’s echo, a note for note copycat. That is how it went, throughout the entire evening with the band doing number upon number that was to music what tracing paper is to art.
Joined by members of the opening act Drew Holcomb and The Neighbors, including their backup singer Ellie Holcomb, Needtobreathe closed the show by mercilessly torturing the old Ben E. King classic “Stand By Me.” They stretched the song out at a snail’s pace and completely ruined it with Bear Rinehart’s god-awful caterwauling that was supposed to come off as soulful feeling but sounded more like he was in serious pain from a stomach ache. Back in Seger’s day you had to be able to cut it at that “Old Time Rock and Roll.” Not anymore. Now, you can palm off a mere approximation and get along just fine.
Drew Holcomb and The Neighbors were better, though regrettably in hit-and-miss fashion. When they played up tempo material, about a handful of numbers interspersed for a 45-minute set, they did excellent, remarkably inspired country rock. For some reason, however, on the ballads—which most of it was—they were boring. Even the good parts had an annoying drawback as Ellie Holcomb, a serviceable singer at best, kept waxing histrionic, as if she was caught up in the very throes of genuine, impassioned artistry. They really should, along with giving Ellie Holcomb a reality check, put a lot more lively cuts in the act, even if they have to resort to a few covers. Because, when Drew Holcomb and The Neighbors pick up the pace, it’s like a totally different band suddenly stepped on stage. Their vocals—never mind the hokey lyrics—ring out good and clear. The guitars are nice and bright with some real interesting leads going on. And the bass and drums do a tight job holding down the pocket.
Those few moments by Drew Holcomb and The Neighbors were the show’s sole saving grace. All in all, between both acts, it was not a very good night for the particularly discerning.