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There was the horde, and the H.O.R.D.E.
by Paul Robicheau
Boston Globe, Boston, MA
Jul 31st, 1998



MANSFIELD - There were virtually two H.O.R.D.E. Festivals going on at Great Woods last night, with one crowd rarely crossing into the other's dimension.

Some clearly came for Barenaked Ladies, the hot band du jour, arriving late to complete a sold-out house. The other crowd arrived early and wandered the grounds for seven-plus hours of nonstop music - with hidden treasures of soul and spontaneity that still define the tour's widening menu.

Nowhere was that audience dichotomy more sharply drawn than the following scenario involving the workshop stage (an overlooked third stage that was a treat for adventurers with lucky timing).

Ben Harper - whose early main-stage set featured his incendiary slide guitar - captivated a full tent there with a surprise solo acoustic set. At the same time Harper was hypnotizing fans with a lilting cover of Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing," Marcy Playground was on the second stage, playing "Sex and Candy" for a boisterous crowd that sang along and body surfed - then bolted for the main stage as soon as that hit was finished and the band slipped into its grunge-light pop. After all, the Barenaked Ladies were about to go on.

The Harper crowd, however, was in no rush.

As for the Ladies (who are actually five men from Canada), they delivered the goods for those who eat up the group's cheery, antic-spiced pop like macaroni and cheese, an in-joke prop for fans. Singer-guitarists Steven Page and Ed Robertson led the charge, pogoing and running in place while mixing breezy folk-pop tunes (like sing-along "Brian Wilson") with more-upbeat novelty songs. In the latter category were current hit "One Week" - where Robertson fired a rapid-fire rap of pop-culture signposts - and "If I Had $1,000,000," which led to a snatch of country chestnut "The Gambler," then spoofs on opera, Celine Dion, Sting, and hip-hop dance moves.

Much of the quintet's adoring fans, which got only an hour of the Ladies on the festival bill, then streamed toward the exits. They passed the second stage where power trio Gov't Mule was kicking through muscle-blues with finesse, from husky Beatles cover "She Said, She Said" to a whiplash "Blind Man in the Dark."

Then tour founder/headliner Blues Traveler whipped up its own power-blues for a faithful but dwindling crowd. The band has been writing new material free of John Popper's trademark harmonica, and indulged last night in a 15-minute "Traveler Suite," with Popper adding lyrical second guitar over arranged passages that broke into a rhythmic release recalling the Grateful Dead's "The Other One." Then Traveler locked into solo-laced favorites "But Anyway," the ripping "Crash Burn" and a jammed out "Gina," led by Popper's quicksilver harp. The group was later supplemented by Ben Harper percussionist Dave Leach, just as Popper had lent his harp to an atmospheric jam in Paula Cole's set.

Next to the Ladies, Rockport native and Lilith Fair vet Cole was the main-stage wild card yesterday, but was in great voice and locked into an organic groove with her Boston-based band. She built up John Lennon's "Working Class Hero" and Dolly Parton nugget "Jolene" (with percussive vocals like a spiritual beat box), and even some reggae and a French-sung finale of "La Vie en Rose" where she donned a blond wig and feather boa. Weird, but a levitating set for Cole.

Cole played to a still part-empty house, though to more fans than sedate soul-pop singer Alana Davis and Harper, whose slide dynamics on old Weissenborn guitars worked best at their extremes (as on "Faded") before he rose from his chair to lead a clap-along chant of Maya Angelou's freedom poem "I'll Rise."

Besides Cole, Boston was represented by jammers Jiggle the Handle and the Jim Kelly Band, whose power fusion was akin to the Mule. By the way, ex-Allman's guitarist Warren Haynes and the Mule, plus the Ladies's Chris Brown (on tour while keyboardist Kevin Hearn recovers from leukemia treatment) also jammed Jimi Hendrix songs on the workshop stage with New York's Mosaic. Horizons of rock developing everywhere.