Plain White T’s Rock to the Rhythm of Love at Sandbar

Written and photography by Heather Vale

On a hot steamy summer night – the first day of August – the Plain White T’s took to the Red Rock Sandbar stage in the Red Rock Casino Resort Spa to warm up the crowd for Daughtry and the Goo Goo Dolls. Not that it could have gotten much warmer with the temperature holding at 110 degrees Fahrenheit… but the lads did a great job of ramping up the party atmosphere.

Formed in 1997 and with a solid discography of 7 studio albums and six EPs, the band nonetheless kept joking about how nobody knew who they were. They’re the quirky type of group who tends to fly under the radar in spite of several platinum radio hits like “Hey There Delilah,” “Rhythm of Love” and “1, 2, 3, 4” – the type of tunes that inspire people to say, “Hey, I know this song…is that theirs?”

They started off the 30-minute set with a few new songs like “Helium” and “The Giving Tree” before launching into “1, 2, 3, 4” which they introduced as a love song – and it’s probably one of the cutest, wackiest love songs ever.

“Hey There Delilah” captured the audience’s attention two-thirds into the set, resulting in cheers, dancing and singing. The only thing that would have made it better would be a fuller crowd, but since the concert started at 7:30 p.m. and would prove to be a 4-hour marathon session, a lot of people still hadn’t arrived at that point.

The pop-punk group was founded by four guys who met in a Villa Park, Illinois, high school and played for years with little more than an underground Chicago club following. Two of them are still in the band – singer Tom Higgenson and electric guitarist Dave Tirio. Joining them are second lead singer Tim Lopez, bassist Mike Retondo and drummer De’Mar Hamilton.

The five-piece group has an interesting configuration with three guitars, two lead singers, a bassist and drummer. I realize that adds up to seven, but of course the singers both play guitar – and primarily acoustic ones at that.

Pretty boy Lopez has gone through several style incarnations, including those suitable to a GQ cover model and a Brit-pop boy band icon, but tonight he totally toned down his look with heavy facial scruff and a retro fedora. Taking center stage and fronting most of the songs, Higgenson looks like he’s still in high school. Rounding out the guitar section, Tirio was dressed in T-shirt and jeans – but no, it was a plain black T, not white. With his frat-boy appearance, he could have stepped off the stage and blended right in with the partiers watching the show.

But despite the band’s youthful appearance, they’re now pretty seasoned musicians. Clearly everyone onstage was focused on giving it their all and having fun in the process, which in my opinion is the mark of a great performance.

“Rhythm of Love,” sung by Lopez with a sweeter sound than Higgenson’s street punk style, was their final song. It was a feel-good ending to a quick and fun show that didn’t get the attention it deserved – just like the band’s entire 17-year history, judging by their running joke about nobody being even remotely familiar with them.

But part of the problem was that they were opening for two extremely well-known acts, which will naturally put them in the shadows. They would probably have a better reception in a smaller venue, like the type they cut their teeth in. The good news is a lot more people now know that they actually do know who the Plain White T’s are. And they know that they like them.

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