Sister Hazel delivers at the Paradise

A review of Sister Hazel at the Paradise Rock Club on December 12

, Staff

In the corporate world of music, Sister Hazel is technically a one-hit wonder. That hit was over a decade ago. So two shocks occurred Friday night: One, a sold out crowd; and two, the never-ending sing along. The fact that they haven’t had a chart topper since 1997 has done nothing to slow this band down, nor detract a myriad of fans.

The set opened with an acoustic take on "Champagne High", the band’s "other" hit. Despite its lesser stature, the crowd began the singing right away. Voices were loud and clear all through the packed house. Massive cheers greeted their other minor success, "Change Your Mind", and the sing-along kept right up into "Your Mistake". Guitarist Drew Copeland took the lead on "Strange Cup of Tea" from Fortress. Lead-singer Ken Block plugged Drew’s solo album, and in return Drew urged the crowd to pick up Ken’s new solo effort.

Block stepped away from the mic multiple times so the audience could belt away. The first instance was during "Beautiful Thing", and the crowd sang and danced in a frenzy. Showing their support of their band-mates, Copeland sat at a keyboard and the band joined in for Block’s solo track "It’s Better This Way", a song Block told the cheering crowd used to be called "Boston". "That’s the first time I’ve done that song out with the full band," Block said with a smile after the jam. He then gave a shout out to their cancer foundation, Lyrics for Life, and the raffle for a cabin on their Rock Boat cruise to benefit the foundation. Many glasses and bottles were raised as Block soapboxed for cancer awareness. Being labeled one-hit wonders hasn’t kept these guys from becoming staples of the independent rock community, and their endless efforts outside of music are proof of that.

After "Come Around", Copeland said, "Congrats to the Celtics. I hear they won again tonight." The band had actually been at the game earlier in the night, as they are apparently friendly with the team’s owner. They mentioned their fortune of having been featured in films and their soundtracks over the years, including smashes like Major League 3, Bedazzled (sarcasm on those two), Clay Pigeons, and The Wedding Planner. They then played "Your Winter" from 10 Things I Hate About You, and the song prompted another boisterous sing-along, forcing Block to relinquish the chorus once again. Lead-guitarist Ryan Newell picked up a banjo for the next track, which Block introduced as "not only a song, now also a bluegrass song, a series of fairy tales, and a children’s book. When is a song more than just a song? When it’s a Sister Hazel Song". The bluegrass version of "Starfish" made an appearance that night, and while it sounded like a child’s folk song, the mixed aged crowd sang along with glee.

Before "Mandolin Moon", Block bargained with the crowd stating, "If I don’t see your hands, let me see your cocktails". A sea of clapping hands rose high above the crowd and hoots and hollers breached from underneath. Block actually stopped the next track, "Shame" dead in its tracks. "Okay," he said to his guitarists, "You guys suck. That’s it! The band’s over"! It was all in good jest, but Block was demanding better from the rocking guitar riff at the open of the song. He got it as they started up again, saying to their sound guy, "Turn everything up! We can rock our way out of this!" And they did, to the extreme pleasure of the crowd. The song broke into a jam near the end, and the shuffling feet and screams of the crowd were just simply manic.

According to one fan-girl, the band rarely, if ever, plays covers, so getting a few acoustic bars of "Leaving On A Jet Plane" was nothing short of a treat for the Boston audience. Then came that super smash hit, "All For You". You’d think that playing a song probably every show for 15 or so years would wear thin, but the guys of Sister Hazel seemed to really revel in the success the tune has had. The singing from the crowd was raucous, as it had been all night. The strumming through the familiar chords was no less energetic than the other tracks. Newell even spun his mike out towards the crowd for one of the final choruses, giving control entirely to their thunderous singing as the band sat back and clapped.

For the rest of the night, the crowd’s level of noise and energy remained at their height. "Run Rudolph Run" off their Christmas album Santa’s Playlist closed out the regular set. Copeland wished everyone a merry Christmas as shouts and cheers led them off stage. While the non-diehard fans started trickling out, chants for an encore brought the band back on, and they were re-greeted by possibly the loudest crowd I’ve ever heard at the Paradise (though, to be fair, I’ve only been there a handful of times). "Swan Dive" came out first, followed by "Happy". During that last song, Copeland and Block left the stage, letting Newell, bassist Jett Beres, and drummer Mark Trojanowski (hell of a last name, isn’t it?) jam out and trade off solos. The jam session lasted well over five minutes, possibly longer, and those that weren’t part of the slow leaking towards the exit rocked out along with the musicians. Block and Copeland came back on stage to finish the song, picking up their instruments and hopping in right where they had left off. Through the final eruption of shouts and applause the band thanked Boston, the opening acts, and, if you listened closely over the rowdy crowd, you could hear what sounded like Copeland thanking the Boston Celtics.

Two opening acts set the stage for the night. First up was the solo acoustic and beat-box styling of Connecticut native Andrew Hoover. The man held the stage all his own, and did an incredibly admirable job of it. His humorous and witty banter with the crowd kept them engaged while his furious slapping strumming entertained their musically geared ears. Hailing from Baton Rouge, the five-piece Benji Davis Project took the stage between the two other acts. Their song "Do It With The Lights On" prompted many a make-out session. One of their tracks, "Sweet Southern Moon", is featured in a commercial for the keg-only beer company, Abida Beer (thanks to the two lovely girls from Baton Rouge who were next to me for that information). Both acts were solid in their own rights, with Hoover putting on an impressive one-man show, while Benji Davis and his Project set the tone for the rocking evening to follow.

Some groups fall into a pit, letting their biggest hit single consume them. Some are okay with singular success, others aren’t. Sister Hazel does none of that. They recognize that "All For You" was the best selling single they’ve ever had, and show it its due respect. They seem grateful that they even managed to have that kind of success, probably realizing how few bands ever do. They also appreciate the fact that their fans, affectionately known as Hazelnuts, have always been there. Those fans do their fair share of appreciating in return. It’s clear that the relationship between these fans and that band is key to their continuing success on their independent Croakin’ Poets label. The crowd Friday night was rowdy as all Hell, and the Floridian rockers braved the Boston chill to put on a steaming good set.

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