OK Go Teach Willing Folks

Middle East, February 3

Chicago-based rockers OK Go brought a rare commodity to the Middle East last Monday—fun, both mischievous and silly.

At a the moment when popsters’ ideas of a good time seem dangerously limited to drunkenness (The Strokes), public exposure (Janet) and grevious bodily harm (Jack White), OK Go prefer to make audiences giggle. Their eponymous album, released in late 2002, isn’t particularly gripping—a series of sunny pop songs equally influenced by emo and the retro-chic of bands like The Apples in Stereo. But OK Go, like all bands worth their salt, come into their own when playing live.

OK Go has made a business of rehabilitating and refurbishing the kitschiest moments in pop music. After a particularly humorless and unnecessary opening band, Raymond, (“The worst crowd ever!” griped Raymond’s bassist), and after fixing some initial sound difficulties that buried frontman Damien Kulash Jr.’s voice in the mix, OK Go delivered an hour of catchy pop songs that were undeniably and infectiously fun. Kulash channeled the campy spirits of Mick Jagger, Freddie Mercury and, in a glorious cover of “Hold the Line,” the much-missed Toto. Adding to the goofiness, bassist Tim Norwind belted out chipmunk-altitude vocal harmonies while maintaining a strictly punk demeanor behind oversized sunglasses. Even the maligned crowd redeemed themselves, stomping and clapping along to the “We Will Rock You” intro to the band’s hit “Get Over It.”

The band drew substantially on its pre-album material, including the cute “It’s Tough To Have A Crush (When The Boy Doesn’t Feel The Same Way You Do),” for which they recruited two men from the audience to come and dance together onstage: “The first time we’ve had a same-sex couple for this song!” said Kulash gleefully. The set, like the songs, was short and sweet. “We don’t usually do encores,” said Kulash when they returned. So instead they performed a karaoke version of “C-C-C-C-Cinnamon Lips,” lip-syncing and dancing in a style that owed more to Janet than ‘N Sync. Kitsch? No doubt. Fun? Only if you have a sense of humor.