Arizona Fall Frenzy Friday: Cougars On The Loose!

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Arizona Fall Frenzy started out with the rock lite line-up Friday night at Tempe Beach Park, and, as expected, there were plenty of moms mixed in with the usual 20- and 30-something music fest crowd. 

It's hard to believe headliner Rob Thomas, of Matchbox Twenty fame, is now one of the kings of the pop lite category, singing about "brothers and sisters of every different color" in "Streetcorner Symphony," but he sure sold it with his show opener, the upbeat "Real World '09." He might lack Jason Mraz's charisma (he oddly kept calling the crowd "baby"), but his vocals were crystal clear and impressive. It's evident he's really found his niche in pop. (Read about why women like rob Thomas, and men don't, here).

The crowd was full of Thomas fans, who sang along to tracks like "Lonely No More," "Little Wonders" and "Smooth." He also played some music off his new album, Cradlesong. This was his first show behind the new album.

Thomas definitely has the hits to deserve a spot on the festival, but the headlining gig just seemed a little unjustified because he lacks star quality. He even admitted, "My heart is with Matchbox Twenty." Maybe he should bring his pop sensibilities to the band, because he doesn't quite command the stage as a solo artist.

The same could be said for Gavin Rossdale, who played a set that was disappointingly boring. The former Bush frontman was awkward and really only had his best moments when he played Bush tracks, such as "The Chemicals Between Us" and "Machinehead." During quiet moments in-between songs, no one really cheered, and Rossdale seemed underconfident. He's probably not used to opening for acts like the B-52's. Still, you can't deny he's a heartthrob, and plenty of women were clawing him when he jumped in the crowd and bizarrely danced. Sadly, Rossdale's wife Gwen Stefani was nowhere to be seen.

It was moments like Rossdale's performance that made me sad the festival didn't feature any small stages to check out. It would have been great to have a local music stage, but you can see some hometown acts, including Telescope and Slowpoke, on Sunday. The most-fun-band-of-the-night award goes to the B-52's, who looked super-fabulous and still have it going on after more than 30 years of performing. The band came out in funky outfits, with singer Fred Schneider wearing sunglasses and, at one point, an afro wig. The band, like the rest of the line-up, played for about an hour, showcasing tracks spanning their entire career. The group really hyped up the crowd, who danced and sang along to tracks such as "Roam" and "Party Out of Bounds."

The B's vocals were all over the place, but that was totally forgiveable because the members more than made up for it with their awesome dance moves and funny, if semi-incoherent, banter.

"Don't take pills because even the spouse of a famous politician is a pill popper, and it's addicting," Schneider said.

Of course, the band's biggest song was "Love Shack," and they succeeded in getting the crowd excited for Jason Mraz.

Mraz brought just as much positive energy to the stage himself.

"We brought a lot of love with us tonight," Mraz said before launching into his poppy songs.

Judging from the thinning of the crowd after his set, most of the audience was there for him.

He did what he does best--lots of crowd flirting and a ton of musical improvising, acting as a modern-day jam band leader.

Most of his set consisted of songs from his current album, We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things. He also performed a dark cover of Seals and Crofts' "Summer Breeze" and brought Caillat on-stage for the super-sweet "Lucky."

Besides Mraz's abundance of charm, his set was enhanced by a killer horn section who solo-ed more than once. Mraz could have fit more songs in without all the instrumental breaks, but the crowd ate up the music by dancing along.

Mraz also managed to create new connections within the crowd in his feel-good show by encouraging the audience to high-five and sing to each other.

After playing his hit single, "The Remedy (I Won't Worry)," the song segued into a cover of Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds." As fans sang the lyrics to each other and the sky, the vibe was the happiest it was all night, and Mraz was clearly the star of the show, even with Thomas following him.
The Fall Frenzy is very comparable to spring's Tempe Music Festival, also at Tempe Beach Park. I'm a little surprised so many people footed the bill for the steep $60 ticket, and I'm looking forward to see if Saturday's Arizona Blink-182 reunion will be worth it.

Stay tuned for more Fall Frenzy updates later today.

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