By the time Fastball finally played their pub-rockn' radio smash "The Way" for several hundred Rochester kids, the band had spent the better part of the evening forestalling this inevitable money-shot moment.

They'd opened with a fast pop-punk song from their unknown first album, flogged their current release, All The Pain Money Can Buy, did a wacky version of ZZ Top's "Thunderbird," encouraged the lighting guy to fire up the club's mirror ball (prompting a "Disco Sucks!" from the peanut gallery), and told everyone how great it was to be there. "I was ready to have a bad time, and now I'm having a great time," bassist/singer Tony Scalzo said between songs. "And it's all because of you.

From Smash Mouth's "Walkin' on the Sun" to Squirrel Nut Zippers' "Hell," '90s alt-rock hits often follow a formula: cautious bits of exotica leavened up with "pop hooks." With it's bandallero groove and Elvis Costelloesque vocals, "The Way" is no exception; by the time Fastball's tour reached Rochester, their catchy ode to midlife escapism had been the most popular song on Modern Rock playlists for three straight weeks. But industry popularity doesn't necessarily equal audience loyalty, something these affable thirtysomething Austinites surley understand ("Warm Fuzzy Feeling" complains that hyped-then-rejected grungers Radish got screwed by the industry). Judging by crowd reaction, Fastball's fans may understand as well. The opening strains of "The Way" prompted the expected ripples of recognition, but little of the excitement you might expect. The hit-and the promise it would be played-was merely a guarantee of a resonably good time, a coupon everyone could redeem.

When Fastball encored with the Who's "The Seeker," it was easy to scoff. "I've been searchin' low and high"-yeah right. But there was a poignant subtext to the "Won't get to get what I'm after till the day I die" refrain. Despite their best intentions, bands such as Fastball are often little more than the low-yield interests of modern rock's capital investment. In Rochester, "The Seeker" inspired a kid to stage-dive, but nobody caught him. That's ok, though. He didn't actually dive-he just sort of ambled feet-first into the gap.

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