Preview: An Evening with Kevin Griffin

Kevin Griffin knows a good music city. The man best known for being the frontman and songwriter in Better than Ezra, has been part of the scenes in New Orleans and Los Angeles, and more recently has become a fixture around Nashville, seeing as he lives with his family in Franklin, Tennessee, about twenty miles south of the country music capital. And so we here at Front Row Boston wanted to know what Griffin thought of the Hub’s legacy in American music.

“Oh, man. I have a lot of history there. In fact, Better than Ezra’s first show was in Boston. In the spring of ’88, we got together to form the band at LSU, and I was dating a girl at Boston University. So I already had plans to spend the summer in Boston, and the rest of the band came with me. We played our first show at the Channel, a bar in South Boston,” Griffin said.

And so a band so often thought of as New Orleans’ contribution to the alternative rock era played their first show here in New England. Better than Ezra may not have been a Boston band, but Griffin certainly talks the talk of someone who knew the Boston scene well during its late 80s/early 90s heyday. “We lived at 469 Comm Ave., right down in Kenmore. We played at so many places. There was the Rat there in Kenmore, TT the Bear’s. And I worked as a valet at Davio’s on Newbury Street. It was a great scene. The guys from Mission to Burma lived right above us.”

It’d be a stretch to call Griffin’s upcoming Thursday night show at Brighton Music Hall a homecoming, but Griffin does seem to be reflecting on his career lately, and will pull on his musical past a bit. He’ll be in the middle of a short run of New England shows, with each one of them being billed as “An Evening with Kevin Griffin.” That sort of marketing paints the picture of a middle-aged troubadour crooning and recounting stories of songs past to a mannered audience over mediocre cocktails in a hotel lounge. That’s not what Griffin is after, though. “I didn’t come up with that. That was Brighton Music Hall or the promoter who decided to call it that,” Griffin said. “It’s intimacy. It’s all about intimacy. I play acoustic with a fantastic percussionist named Jen Lowe. It will be an evening of songs from Better than Ezra, songs I’ve written for other people — like Taylor Swift, James Blunt, and Howie Day. There will be some ill-advised covers. Some anecdotes. Some dance moves. And definitely some audience participation.”

This type of show likely reflects a wizened performer who’s been at it for nearly 30 years, and it also reflects the restless nature of Griffin’s career and creativity. After a decade of sustained success with Better than Ezra, Griffin turned toward different musical pursuits in the early 00s, and finds himself enjoying these pursuits even more than his earlier successes. “I started asking myself, ‘what’s my second act?’ How do I take the skill set I’ve learned as a performer and a songwriter and pursue other avenues in music? I had a narrow vision of myself as a performer for a long time. Now I can wear different hats, and I’m enjoying music more than ever because of those different hats.”

Of those hats, there’s songwriter, festival organizer, author, and solo artist. Griffin has written hits for a number of pop and country artists over the past 15 years or so. He co-founded Franklin, Tennessee’s Pilgrimage Festival — entering its second year — with some friends. He’s working on a book about his creative process. And — since the question comes up when there’s a solo tour — he’s also planning a solo record for release next year. “It’s gotta be something different from a Better than Ezra record, otherwise it should just be a Better than Ezra record. If I can take Neil Young’s Harvest and back it with something by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, that’s the sound I want. It’s got to be cool, organic, and fresh,” Griffin said. He may even preview that solo record with a tune called, “Is This the Place,” this Thursday. “It’s been kicking around for a while, and I’d have to remember the lyrics, but I just might do that.”

What he won’t do is traffic too much in unplugged earnestness. “I can only tolerate a guy with an acoustic doing sincere songs for so long. So we’ll have to make it fun,” Griffin joked. “Maybe I’ll do a medley of 70s TV theme songs. We can go from ‘Three’s Company,’ to ‘Welcome Back.’ You know, the John Sebastian tune from Welcome Back, Kotter? And then we’ll go to the ‘Love Boat.'” For many reasons, I think none of us in Boston can fault him if he just plays, “Welcome Back.”

Kevin Griffin will be performing at the Brighton Music Hall on Thursday, 5/19. Get your tickets to the show here.