Fastball at Bowery Ballroom, New York, NY 8/7/98

The place wasn't packed to the gills, but it was no fault of Fastball's. As summer sprints to a close, New York City basically shuts down -- especially on weekends, when those more financially gifted (or just plain lucky) flee for some last-gasp sun and scenery before Labor Day stomps on everyone's collective buzz. So while those of us without summer shares waited to see the three most unlikely and unusual-looking superfoxes to break out on Top 40 radio, the rest of Manhattan was battling Friday night road rage by getting all "psyched" for beach volleyball or something. Too bad. They missed one sweaty, snap-crackling show.

Considering the above, Fastball still drew a fine crowd. Well, despite the decidedly Express/Structure dress code. At least there was one lone, scraggly Alice Cooper wannabe who canceled out every Marie Claire slavegirl in Capri pants who acted as a support rail for her drunken fratboy beau. You wouldn't have thought the place would erupt so gleefully when Fastball hit the stage, and you definitely wouldn't have thought you would catch anyone singing along to anything that wasn't "The Way." Let's just say it was a night for everyone to be pleasantly surprised. Including the band.

Beaming more brightly than the spotlights and looking more relaxed than the cut of Kris Kross' jeans, Fastball -- Tony Scalzo on bass, Miles Zuniga on guitar, Joey Shuffield on drums, with Andy Blunda providing keyboard and guitar support -- seemed genuinely, refreshingly happy -- even moved at times -- to see that anyone other than the friends and family they shouted-out to was even there, let alone cheering and screaming and singing along. To everything. Even older cuts like "Are You Ready for the Fallout" got the barroom karaoke treatment from selected members of the crowd. Well, perhaps Fastball wasn't moved so much as shocked. Scalzo proclaimed the feminine squeals that met the intro to "Out of My Head" "scary," and got so flustered, he flubbed the first line. We could be mistaken, but we're pretty sure the guy actually blushed.

Compared to Zuniga's output, Scalzo's songs may be hookier, and his voice, with its creaky-boards catch, may be more distinctive. But on-stage, it's Zuniga who really cranks out the rockstar action. Tearing through guitar after guitar, Zuniga leapt all over the stage like it was going out of style. The Fastball-uninitiated friend we brought along quickly went from silently awestruck to muttering the mantra "IlovehimIlovehimIlovehim." And that was about five minutes into the show. As for Shuffield, his boyish looks are pretty deceptive; his sticks are thicker than Celine Dion's arms, and the man pounds harder than the diva pounds her chest. (If you're lucky enough to have escaped the sight, we'll tell you that that's really, really hard.)

Thankfully, Fastball didn't feel obligated to play through everything on their current album and let that pass for a set. The whole night was as loose as Shuffield's drumming was tight. Some album tracks were left untouched, and a few choice covers blazed out -- including the Hoodoo Gurus' "Like Wow Wipeout" and a final encore of Tommy Tutone's "867-5309 (Jenny)" with a few lines of the Cure's "Killing an Arab" thrown in. As if we couldn't see these guys' hearts planted firmly on their sleeves already. So to all of you out there who aren't sure if you're "supposed to" like Fastball -- and we know who you are -- if this show was any indication, it's about time you woke up and loved them.

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