Better Than Ezra will make a triumphant return to Artpark on Tuesday. Last year, the group had a spectacular performance when they were sandwiched between KT Tunstall and the Barenaked Ladies, This year the group will appear with Tonic’s Emerson Hart kicking off the evening, and they will be followed by Sugar Ray.
“If you are a good band, you want a strong headliner and you want a strong opener. It makes everybody better and the winner is the audience,” Better Than Ezra’s frontman Kevin Griffin noted during a recent phone interview. Just like his last visit to Artpark, Kevin and his bandmates are surrounded by two great artists who also hit their commercial peak in the 1990s.
Sugar Ray is best known for “Fly,” a catchy song that was nothing like the band had done before, and it was a song that marked the group’s shift from alternative rock to a pop sound. From 1997-2003, the group recorded enough hits to fill a best of album and you can expect to hear many of them including “Every Morning,” and “When It’s Over.” Sugar Ray also has a brand-new song called “Make it Easy.”
Around the same time, Emerson Hart was cranking out hits like “If You Could Only See” and “You Wanted More” with Tonic. In addition to their commercial success, Tonic earned two Grammy nominations.
Better Than Ezra’s 1993 album titled “Deluxe” put them on the map on the strength of the single “Good” which isn’t even their best song, just their most popular. Since then, they have spent their career establishing themselves as a great live band.
“For most of our career we did headlining tours,” Griffin said. “When you headline you know you will get a better guarantee. Finding a tour that you can be on the road with and make money is hard, but after last year we realized that it helps to bring our show to a wider audience.”
Griffin and his Better Than Ezra bandmates have found that twice in two years, and he pondered the suggestion that Better Than Ezra tour with Sugarland next year, a group whose song “Tonight” is a song Griffin co-wrote.
For now, he is focusing on this tour, and his relationship with each of the bands on the bill.
“At its core all our music is pop. We weren’t dark bands, and it’s nice that we all complement each other. I have worked with both of them — we have a group called Ezra Ray Hart and we started off doing some corporate shows and it really took off. They have been private events but it gave us an opportunity to play together because some of these events just want the singers to sing the hits.”
He is also looking forward to coming back to Artpark, “We had a great time there; I remember it well because Tyler and Ed from the Barenaked Ladies went hiking with us along the Niagara River. It’s a unique venue, a beautiful place that is hard to forget.”
Better Than Ezra’s performance was hard to forget as well, Griffin walked throughout the venue for the band’s last song, and joked, “Anytime I can walk around a venue and sing ‘Tiny Dancer’ it’s a good night.”
Of course, there is one question that Griffin always gets, but never really answers, and that is the origin of the band’s name. He admits it is more fun to keep it a secret than reveal the true story.
“My favorite explanation is that it came from Hemingway’s ‘A Movable Feast,’ on page 258, which has the line ‘anything is better than Ezra learning to play the bassoon.’ I wish it was that interesting.”
When pressed if it was true that the band’s name was just something off the top of someone’s head, Griffin laughed and said, “Something like that.”
Tickets for Sugar Ray, Better Than Ezra and Emerson Hart start at $17 and are available through Tickets.com or at Artpark’s box office.
Thom Jennings covers the local music scene for Night and Day.