- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Gavin DeGraw isn’t a big star yet, but he sure seemed like one Monday night at the 9:30 Club, where he played a sold-out doubleheader.

Shivering fans waiting for entry into the late show stirred when a jeff-hat-wearing Mr. DeGraw popped out of his tour bus. Once in the club, they greeted every cut from his album “Chariot” as though it were a hit single.

“I Don’t Wanna Be” actually is a hit single, and Mr. DeGraw has been riding it for the past year and a half. “Chariot,” released in July 2003, eventually went gold and was rereleased this summer with a bonus disc of acoustic versions of each track.

Nothing like milking every drop.

Mr. DeGraw, an upstate New Yorker who moved to the big city to find stardom, is slowly finding room in the demographic space of young white nonsmokers who like artists such as John Mayer and Maroon 5. Monday was date night. Couples slow-danced, mimed lyrics and played air guitar. Women noticed Mr. DeGraw’s “nice pecs.”

The young singer-songwriter is fit indeed. He has a million-dollar smile and plays a very catchy cocktail of muscular rock music with pretty refrains. Take “I Don’t Wanna Be,” for instance. It borrows a nasty Stone Temple Pilots riff (think “Vaseline”) and, by the time you reach the chorus, is impossible not to sing along to — that is, if you can follow the tricky meter of the lines “I don’t wanna be/Anything other/What I’ve been/Tryin’ to be lately.”

Mr. DeGraw switches between guitar and piano (on which he’s better-schooled) and is growing into a natural frontman. He dropped both instruments to get frisky with the front row on the funky “Chemical Party,” which is about what you think it’s about. His voice, though consistently flat and somewhat hoarse Monday — no shame in that; he’d already performed a full show — is blue-eyed-soulful.

Scattered among such “Chariot” songs as “Meaning” and “Overrated” were tributes to Mr. DeGraw’s heroes — a snatch of Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready” here, a full cover of the Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rider” there.

He’s forging ahead with new material of his own, too. “Cop Stop,” yet to be released, goes like this: “I’m a cop — stop/Put up your hands and surrender to me.” It’s cheesy as can be, but darn if it’s not still in my head.

Mr. DeGraw is blossoming into one of those artists who’s great at being mediocre.

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