As the band the Baseball Project took the stage at the RecordBar on Wednesday night, the televisions were appropriately tuned into the Kansas City Royals game with the Oakland Athletics.
The band opened with “1976,” a tribute to the late Mark Fidrych, who won the rookie of the year award that year as a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers. Then vocalist/guitarist Scott McCaughey said something like: I hope the Royals win their division, but I don’t want them to beat the Athletics.
Then the band launched into, “They Are the Oakland A’s,’ a poppy hard-rock tune dedicated to the “wheelin’ and a dealing” team “in that other city by the bay.”
The Baseball Project is a supergroup comprising McCaughey of the Young Fresh Fellows, bassist Mike Mills, formerly of R.E.M., Steve Wynn, formerly of the Dream Syndicate, and Linda Pitmon, drummer for Wynn in his band the Miracle 3. Former R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck is also a member of the Baseball Project; he was not with the band Wednesday night.
For more than 90 minutes, the band serenaded a lively crowd of about 150 people with songs about baseball players and baseball lore. If that sounds like a novelty whose charm would soon wear thin, you haven’t listened to their songs, which are about baseball specifically but also about life in general. Plus, the songwriting is, overall, outstanding.
The set list included “Long Before My Time,” a tribute to Sandy Koufax but also a song about anyone deep in the dusk of their career: “Summer slowly turns to fall / It’s so hard to walk away from it all long before my time.”
It also included “Monument Park,” a tribute to former Yankee great (and guitar virtuoso) Bernie Williams; “Pascual on the Perimeter,” the tale of the late Pascual Pérez getting lost on the way to the stadium in Atlanta and missing a start (sung by Pitmon); “Harvey Haddix,” about the Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher who threw 12 perfect innings but lost his no-hitter and the game in the 13th; “From Nails to Thumbtacks,” the story of Lenny Dykstra’s financial collapse; and “To the Veterans Committee,” an appeal to get former Atlanta Braves outfielder Dale Murphy into the Hall of Fame: “Forget about the cheaters and all those steroid eaters / I want to see Dale Murphy in the Hall of Fame.”
Their music is appealing, a mix of pop and rock, from roots to surf. It’s all catchy. Most of the songs feature buttery two- and three-part harmonies. And throughout the set, the crowd indulged in both the novelty and the craftwork of each song.
They closed with “Superman,” a Clique anthem made famous by R.E.M. on its “Lifes Rich Pageant” album. By then, the TVs were broadcasting the Royals’ post-game show. The boys in blue won. “Superman” was the perfect ending to a winning night.