fun. Bayou Music Center February 13, 2013
How long has it been since America's young people have had something to be optimistic about besides the music on the radio? The '80s?
That must be the guiding principle behind newly crowned Grammy Best New Artist winners fun., who played to a full Bayou Music Center the night before Valentine's Day. Thanks to the inescapable singles "We Are Young" and "Some Nights," the NYC band has updated the angst-ridden, word-spewing Tri-State pop-rock of Billy Joel and Paul Simon for the social-media generation, and earned a few critics who think their wide-eyed, heart-on-sleeve music beggars belief.
But if you can look beyond the glittering, grandiose melodies crafted by singer Nate Reuss, guitarist Jack Antonoff and keyboardist Andrew Dost's crew -- admittedly, that can be almost impossible -- you'll notice that fun., damn their annoyingly stylized name, does not seem to be having very much fun at all.
The group's catalog (two albums strong) is rife with loneliness, abandonment and rejection, and a leading theme of even their biggest hits is employing nightlife as a distraction from an emotional core of desolation. As Reuss puts it in "All Alright," "I got nothing left inside my chest." Party!
And so Wednesday, fun. opened with the typically theatrical "Out On the Town," wherein Reuss reflects on causing a scene outside a lover's window and bemoans, "there's no one to keep me warm." Later came the equally despondent "All Alone," and the relatively optimistic "At Least I'm Not as Sad (As I Used to Be)."
A few, say, "It Gets Better," seemed expressly written as chin-up affirmations, but song after song brought on the urge to run up and give everyone in the band a big hug. This was before the last song of the encore, "Stars," an abject cousin to Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (which shares producer Jeff Bhasker with fun.'s breakthrough Some Nights), which somehow managed to be both completely processed and wholly affecting.
Of course, some 3,000 people didn't come downtown to be depressed when they could just as well do that at home. That's where fun.'s (hyper)melodies come in - great, Queen-size bohemian rhapsodies like "Barlight," the New Wave-y "It Gets Better" and "All the Pretty Girls," which will forever stamp them in my memory as the Bay City Rollers of the early '10s. Or at least until they make another record or two.
And to be fair, fun. is hardly the first group to stumble upon this sort of bait and switch. It worked well enough for the Rolling Stones, making "You Can't Always Get What You Want" an excellent choice to close out the main set, down to a real flugelhorn on the famous intro.
It was easy to smile at that, and at the banter about throwing fruit (an old Broadway/vaudeville tradition). And, overall, fun. did seem to be enjoying themselves quite a bit -- Antonoff even peeled off a couple of tasty guitar solos when he didn't even really have to.
But still, all that sadness so close at hand, no matter how beautiful the music is. For a band that has become an unlikely standard-bearer of mainstream rock, reading between the lines of their songs is not a pretty picture at all.
Personal Bias: To quote dlisted's Michael K, I can't right now.
The Crowd: The most wholesome, mainstream-looking large crowd I've been in for quite some time. Lots of women, young people, and not quite as many couples as I expected.
Overheard In the Crowd: "It's like merging on the highway" - traffic was a little backed up leaving the theater.
Overheard In My Head: I am really goddamn old.
Random Notebook Dump: Watching fun. accept one of their Grammys last Sunday, I caught myself wondering how their mothers let them go out of the house dressed like that.
Out on the Town One Foot All the Pretty Girls Why Am I the One At Least I'm Not as Sad (As I Used to Be) All Alone It Gets Better Barlights All Alright The Gambler Carry On We Are Young You Can't Always Get What You Want (Rolling Stones cover)
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Some Nights Stars