The Fray Gothic Theatre Tuesday, January 7, 2009
You know you've arrived when you can front-load your set with the hits that you used to save for last, the ones that let you quit your day job. And there they were: three songs into the set, the illustrious "Over My Head (Cable Car)," followed by "How to Save a Life" half a dozen songs later. The set closer these days: the act's current single, "You Found Me," which can also be seen as a testament to the strength of the new material, which is a far sight from the rough sketches that were presented at the Bluebird last February during a trio of even more intimate theater shows.
These smaller theater tours are presumably geared toward tightening your chops before the big-money gigs commence. To that end, the Fray's Gothic show suitably served its purpose. Although the band was poised for much of its set, the players did seem looser at times, as though they were still getting comfortable playing the new material live. There were also a few sour notes. My guess is that the guys were simply shaking off some of the rust that's accumulated from being off the road for a while and haven't quite reached their cruising altitude yet.
Of the new songs, standouts included "Syndicate" (smart money's on this one being the next single), "Say When" and "Never Say Never," as well as a fleshed-out version of "Absolute," a live staple that now benefits from a chorus and bridge, late-game additions that enhance the song. The same cannot be said for "Happiness," which has been transformed from a quaint, solo acoustic number into a builder, with guitarist David Welsh adding guitar flourishes and drummer Ben Wysocki adding superfluous rhythmic elements, before the song inexplicably crescendos dramatically with frontman Isaac Slade trading his acoustic for a seat behind his piano and the rest of band joining in. For my money, the added embellishments do nothing more than strip the song of some of its inherent poignancy.
For his part, Slade was in fine form for the first part of the sixteen-song set. Although his mid-range was powerful throughout, roughly a quarter of the way through, his voice seemed to be fatigued and became a little raspier than usual, causing him to struggle slightly with the delicate falsetto runs on tracks like "Say When," and later during the intro to "You Found Me," which calls for a notably lower register.
The only real gripe of the evening -- if there was any at all -- was the uneven mix that often pushed Welsh's tasteful fretwork to the forefront in moments when it really should have been more subdued and muted when it should've served as more of a focal point.
None of this, however, seemed to dampen the capacity crowd's enthusiasm in the slightest. Likewise, the band - particularly its charismatic frontman -- was dependably engaging, from discussing the nuances of the word "poop" in regard to housebreaking his new puppy, to taking an impromptu poll about the best Christmas gifts, to leading his bandmates through a spirited rendition of "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)." No shit. Beyonce. It was every bit as absurd and ill-conceived as it sounds. Nonetheless, it's refreshing to see that these guys, who've sold well over two million records, still don't take themselves too seriously.
All in all, the misteps were minimal, and it's a safe bet that fans walked away from this rare, intimate show feeling privileged and exhilarated in equal measure. - Dave Herrera
Personal Bias: Since I've been covering this band almost as long as it has been a band, I probably have a much keener sense of the act's high points and missteps than the casual listener. Random Detail: Mayor Hickenlooper was on hand and watched the show perched near the soundboard. By the Way: For an intimate theater show, the stage setup was somewhat elaborate, but fittingly so. Outfitted with an array of lamps of various sizes and several chandeliers hovering overhead, the stage resembled a Lamps Plus showroom - one possessed by a three-year-old playing "blink the lights" as the lights dimmed and illumninated in synch with the music.
Absolute Syndicate Over My Head (Cable Car) All At Once Where the Story Ends Say When Look After You Enough For Now How to Save a Life Ungodly Hour Single Ladies (Put a Ring On it) She Is Never Say Never You Found Me
We Build Then We Break Happiness
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"Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)"