Every once in a while, like anyone else I suppose, I want to see or hear something different from my usual music playlist. I will tune into FM radio once in a while and check in on what the radio station programmers of the world feel people should listen to. Sometimes I’ll stop and listen and something so poppy and mainstream will catch my ear that I’ll be embarrassed to admit it to my circle of friends, much less write about it publicly. But I want to be free of that “I have to be cool” feeling and admit I like pop music or Top 40 once in a while. I mean…doesn’t everyone have guilty pleasures? Well thanks to less than stellar pop radio in Everywhere, U.S.A. and popular television drama Grey’s Anatomy, I have come to enjoy The Fray over the years. So when I got my first opportunity to see the Denver-based pop-stars at Stubb’s Sunday night, I jumped at the chance.
Opening for The Fray was an indie-folk rock band from Denver, Churchill. They weren’t the pop band I’d expect to see open for The Fray, and I was curious to see how the sold out crowd would react to them. With their acoustic, folk-meets-indie sound, Churchill got some confused but polite looks. Armed with the quintessential long-haired, bearded, flannel-shirt wearing lead singer in Tim Burns and token folk mandolin player Mike Morter, Churchill appeared to be every other indie-folk band I’ve seen before. It wasn’t until Churchill covered Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way” that the crowd in front of them sort of just woke up. More favorable responses came when keyboardist Bethany Kelly and Burns sang as a duo on a few songs together. The Burns-Kelly vocal pairing worked well for Churchill and offered a more approachable sound for The Fray’s audience in attendance. Too bad it was good music for the wrong crowd, but I applaud The Fray for bringing along a hometown band to open for them.
Once Churchill finished, The Fray came out after a short set changeover with no intro and immediately began performing “The Fighter” and “Syndicate,” an older song from their self-titled sophomore album. While all were excited to see Isaac Slade (vocals, piano) and company, it was when Slade played the first few notes of their mega-hit “You Found Me” that really set the night off right or so I thought at the time. Early on in the set, Slade introduced guitarist Joe King’s toddler-aged daughter Eva to the crowd. Of course the crowd cheered at the mere site of young Eva but she embellished. After asking the crowd from the top of Slade’s piano if “they were ready,” Eva serenaded everyone with Adele’s “Someone Like You,” or at least a tidbit of it. Loud cheers followed of course. Kudos to The Fray as I have never seen a band do such a thing before.
Shortly thereafter, Slade broke into the next song in the middle of the crowd at Stubb’s to make his way up the side steps that lead to V.I.P and sing from there. Again, not something I expected from an older pop (as in age) pop band. The people loved that interaction almost as they loved The Fray’s popular radio hit like “How To Save A Life.” After an absolutely wonderful and enjoyable set, I wondered what The Fray were going to perform for their encore, which was in demand to say the least judging by the loud cheers and screams.
Coming back out again to “Look After You,” The Fray seemed to have held the attention of most of the audience in attendance. The surprise came when Slade came out with a piano key accordion and began to sing their song “Munich,” only to lead into an Oasis cover of “Wonderwall.” As if that wasn’t enough to win a cool points with the crowd, they closed with their rendition of “Maps” by The Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I was proud but not impressed by that one. Proud because who knew The Fray were into Karen O. and friends. I was not impressed because only Karen O. can pull off that song. I don’t care who you are. Despite what I thought, people cheered and enjoyed themselves. I guess that was all that mattered.
(The Fray performed a headlining concert at Stubb’s in Austin, Texas on April 29, 2012)