When John Ondrasik signed with EMI Records in 1995, the record label convinced him to release his music under the name "Five for Fighting". They were convinced the era of the singer-songwriter had passed and wanted a name that sounded like a band.
EMI's American label folded shortly after the Five for Fighting's first album, but Ondrasik kept the stage name.
On Saturday night at Evanston's SPACE, Ondrasik appeared under his real name. He was alone on stage, accompanied only by his guitar and piano.
Ondrasik announced that he would take requests and play any song that he could remember. Immediately, multiple audience members shouted for his 2003 hit song "100 Years". He replied, "If I play 100 Years now, it will be the earliest I have ever played it in a concert." He sat down and played it right away. The audience loved it, and Ondrasik joked, "I hope everyone doesn't leave now."
They did not leave, and the singer-songwriter entertained them for over two hours, drawing on his catalog of six studio albums. At 58, his voice still retains the great range that appealed to adult contemporary radio audiences in the 1990s.
In between songs, he told stories of his life. He explained how much he enjoys playing "100 Years," - a song describing changing feelings as one ages. "When I wrote the song," he explained, "I was in the second verse. Now I'm in the bridge."
Ondrasik has a passion for supporting American soldiers. He has performed for the troops many times and written songs about military struggles in Afghanistan and Ukraine. He spoke on this topic for some time during the show. It was an interruption in the music, but his passion held the audience. After his speech, he presented a slideshow of his recent trip to Ukraine while he performed "Can One Man Save the World?" - a tribute to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who is currently fighting the Russians invading his country.
His SPACE performance was not part of a tour. Ondrasik was in town to see the premiere of "Last Out" at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre - a play about a green beret attempting to rescue those left behind after America withdrew from Afghanistan. He decided to schedule a solo show while in the area.
Chicagoland was fortunate on this night.