At first glance, it doesn’t make sense. The H.O.R.D.E. tour caters to people who wear tie-dye; Morphine caters to people who wear black. H.O.R.D.E. is full of endless guitar solos; Morphine doesn’t even have a guitar. True, Blues Traveler’s John Popper — the grand poobah of H.O.R.D.E. — is a professed fan, but when Morphine was asked to join the summer tour, ”We didn’t even know what it was, exactly, at first,” confesses frontman Mark Sandman, who looks a bit like talk-show host Jon Stewart after an all-night bender. ”But we checked it out. It was just a bunch of bands playing on the same day. It sounded like a good time.” And besides, adds Sandman, ”any billing that we’re on always seems a little odd.”
He’s right. A Boston trio comprised only of a drummer (Billy Conway), a saxophone (Dana Colley), and a two-stringed bass (Sandman), Morphine occupies a strange and refreshing outpost in the alternative nation. The band’s stripped-down, bluesy rumble of bass and baritone — a sort of film-noir fondue of rock, jazz and soul-began five years ago on a lark. But Morphine went on to cut three albums; copies of the last two — 1993’s Cure For Pain and this year’s Yes — have sold in the six figures.
Even so, Morphine really won its fans by endless touring — a habit the band shares with the noodling gypsies of H.O.R.D.E. ”I believe we were on the road 13 months last year,” quips Sandman. ”Which is no small feat.” Earlier this summer the trio dashed off nine festivals in Europe, where it shared the stage with everyone from R.E.M. to the Offspring to Van Halen. As Sandman has come to learn, you never can tell where Morphine will turn up. ”We found ourselves playing in the courtyard of this 15th-century castle in Italy. It had a drawbridge. It had a moat,” he says. ”That was a pretty righteous experience.”