Fastball Delivers Power-Pop Charm

If their current hit single, The Way, is any indication, Fastball work best when sailing straight down the middle.

But the Texas pop-rock band served up a curveball for their opening pitch at Lee's Palace Sunday.

The set's first song, a bright, high-speed rocker, didn't come from left field -- okay, that's it for the baseball puns -- but it still seemed like uncharted territory for much of the near-capacity, 400-strong audience, who'd undoubtedly ventured out on this rainy Sunday night to hear the hit.

"Play The Way!" at least one fan was heard to bellow three songs in. "The Way!"

Fastball, of course, were having none of this, and they grinned politely through 60 minutes of sturdy, well-executed but nondescript power-pop -- and further calls for the hit -- before finally coughing up the goods.

In between, they had little trouble matching The Way's vaguely Latin, radio-ready charm with tunes culled from their second album, All The Pain Money Can Buy.

They poured on the hooks with Fire Escape and Warm Fuzzy Feeling, a sly, dry poke at the one-hit-wonderful pop world -- highly appropriate considering Fastball's uncomfortable placement alongside cookie-cutter hitmakers like Tonic, Matchbox 20 and Third Eye Blind.

Guitarist Miles Zuniga played emcee, hamming it up for the crowd and trading off vocal duties with perpetually concerned-looking bassist Tony Scalzo, who also tickled the ivories for a ballad or two.

The band also benefitted from Scalzo's flawless interplay with drummer Joey Shuffield, while an auxillary guitarist-keyboardist helped flesh things out.

Still, likable as they were, Fastball never really strayed off the beaten track long enough to set themselves apart from the aforementioned parade of middle-of-the-road pop acts.

A taut version of The Who's The Seeker during their first encore came close, but it came across more like an apology for a snoozy Which Way To The Top?

Fastball were already taking a chance by holding their hit-hungry audience hostage until it was time for The Way. They may as well have stirred things up some more.

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