Concert Reviews

Last Night: Fall Out Boy, Gym Class Heroes, Plain White T's and Cute Is What We Aim For @ Magness Arena

The members of Fall Out Boy, who headline the Young Wild Things tour that stopped at DU's Magness Arena on November 23, are new millennium anachronisms: musicians who became famous thanks to MTV video airplay. Of course, the video medium is currently the province of YouTube, while MTV prefers to devote its resources to "original" programs such as Tila Tequila's self-satirizing bisexual skankfest, not to mention endless marathons of America's Next Top Model. But head Boy Pete Wentz and his support crew owe their U.S. success to the venerable music net every bit as much as Duran Duran and Madonna do. This fact colored their crowd-pleasing but highly erratic performance at Magness, where they were outshone by another MTV video band they helped boost to prominence.

The concert opened with Cute Is What We Aim For, which recently visited Colorado as part of the 2007 Warped Tour (see this blog for a review). There, lead singer Shaant Hacikyan and the rest of the Cuties had underwhelmed even attendees in their prime demographic -- girls under the age of 16 -- and despite better sound, that was pretty much the case again. Tunes such as "The Curse of Curves" are catchy enough on CD, but live, they don't have enough melodic juice to differentiate them from the approximately 2.76 trillion tunes they resemble -- and Hacikyan's efforts only exacerbated the situation. He seemed like a nice guy (an important attribute in this genre), thanking the folks at DU for letting him play hockey earlier in the day and offering shout-outs to the bands that would follow. But he only occasionally hit his high notes, helping to flatten out the material as a whole. The results were cute, but that's about it.

Plain White T's also appeared locally not too long ago: Check out this entry for an overview of their spotlight time at KTCL's Big Gig in August. At that show, I admit to having been stunned by the towering wimpiness of the combo -- particularly lead singer Tom Higgenson, who seemed more like an understudy for the Joel Grey part in a revival of Cabaret than a rock frontman. Higgenson was no more studly this time around. He reminded me of the guy who taught Kirsten Dunst and her cheerleading sisters choreographed moves in Bring It On; I kept expecting him to flash his spirit fingers. Frankly, though, I was a bit more appreciative than before of the outfit's sincere teen pop -- not just "Hey There, Delilah," which the throng warbled line for line, and its conceptual twin, "Write You a Song," but also the alleged rockers, which were undeniably catchy even if they couldn't bruise a peach. After all, softies like music, too.

As for Gym Class Heroes, they didn't need to be graded on the curve. Unlike the men of Cute Is What We Aim For, Travis McCoy and the rest of the Heroes improved on their studio work, imprinting a potentially scattershot array of styles and sounds with personality-plus. The set began with "Cupid's Chokehold," the collective's best-known track -- a move that practically guaranteed a fast start and a tepid finish. Not in this case, however. McCoy, who's six-five and looked every inch of it, had the attendees in his mammoth palm from his first between-song comments: He noted that he loves Denver so much that he travels here in his free time, adding that he may purchase a house in the area and become a quasi-fulltime resident. Maybe that's why the audience cheered instead of jeered when he unexpectedly paid tribute to the parents who'd either brought their kids to the show or paid for their tickets, even branding their offspring "ungrateful little fuckers," albeit with a comic tinge to his voice. Still, the Heroes' secret weapon, aside from their enthusiasm, was a musical palette that was notably broader than any of the other combos on the bill. Hip-hop and R&B turned up, as did classic rock, represented by a version of Van Halen's "Jump" designed to get everyone, well, jumping, and its more modern spawn, via a surprisingly credible version of the Arctic Monkeys' "Leave Before the Lights Come On."

During a 2006 Westword interview, McCoy boasted about his band's ability to win over music fans who'd come to the venue to see someone else, and he proved it during the Magness turn, which concluded with a rousing "Clothes Off!" co-starring Fall Out Boy singer Patrick Stump. Videos have certainly helped the Heroes, but they're capable of triumphing without them.

That's debatable when it comes to Fall Out Boy. The players have plenty of genre smashes in their repertoire -- so many, in fact, that their decision to bow with their breakthrough, "Sugar We're Goin' Down," raised none of the concerns that accompanied the Gym Class Heroes' similar strategy. Yet the weirdness of their dynamic is much more obvious in concert than in clips. Stump may be the main vocalist for a mega-popular band, but he's severely lacking in charisma, and even though he was literally at center stage for most of the show, he remained in the shadow of Wentz, the quartet's spokesman. Wentz did all the talking on this night, vacillating between coy gamesmanship (he told the boys below him on the floor that the girls were kicking their asses in what passed for a pit) and attempted worldliness that was sometimes flat-out laughable (amid his introduction to "Hum Hallelujah," he nattered on about J.D. Salinger, describing Catcher in the Rye as "a pretty good book").

Problem was, Wentz couldn't serve as a visual focus; he broke his foot a couple of weeks back, limiting his mobility. Hence, he mostly twisted and turned in place, and never ventured up a giant ramp leading to the platform where drummer Andy Hurley kept time. Moreover, guitarist Joe Trohman only clambered onto the contraption twice during the show, preferring to concentrate on axe-god posturing that would have made more sense if his riffs squealed and raged instead of buzzing and chug-a-chugging.

For these reasons and more, the band wasn't nearly as interesting to watch as the visuals on the oversized screen behind them. Programmers kept up a steady stream of high-end imagery, including the animation created to accompany "The Carpal Tunnel of Love," which was played in its entirety. Such eye candy was tasty -- so much so that I had to continually remind myself to tear my peepers away from it in order to check out the band it was created to promote.

The music was lacking, too. Whereas the best of the band's material, including several entries from 2007's Infinity on High, sports at least a few highs and lows, the live versions generally remained on the same level, with the steady guitar underpinning reducing Stump's singing to a mostly unintelligible blur for those who hadn't already committed every bon mot to memory (admittedly only a small number of those at Magness). The primary attempt to change the pace occurred during an acoustic interlude, with Stump allowed to sing "Golden" by himself before the rest of the players reemerged for a second number that pushed him into the background again.

Yeah, some of the material -- notably "Thnks fr the Mmrs" and "The Take Over, the Breaks Over" -- worked okay on its own terms, and "Dance, Dance" and "This Ain't a Scene, It's an Arms Race" (boosted by de rigeuer flashpots) earned passing marks by dint of sheer familiarity. But unlike Gym Class Heroes, the Boys mainly managed to enthrall those who were predisposed to swoon at each of Wentz's pretty pouts. Everyone else would have been better off just watching TV. -- Michael Roberts

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts