September 10, 2013 (Complete slideshow here)
"We Are Young" may not have even been the second-unlikeliest No. 1 hit of 2012--here in 2013, though, at a safe remove from PSY and Gotye, it's a little easier to appreciate just how weird it was. With rock in a supposedly terminal decline, the first chart-topping band since Nickelback was playing not post-grunge--the last refuge of loud guitars--but brittle, anxious indie-guy-dance music.
And, yeah, the lead singer was Nate Ruess, erstwhile lead singer of The Format. It was a lot for brittle-anxious-indie-guys to take in at once.
Since then, though, fun. and its boomy drums have successfully imprinted on the culture. Their show at Comerica Theatre felt like an overdue recognition of just how big Some Nights had gotten--and that was the way the band and the audience seemed to treat it.
Tegan and Sara felt like an unusual choice for opener, but only until I realized I hadn’t heard their last album. 2012’s Heartthrob, a conscious attempt at broadening their audience, hits all the same buttons as fun., extruding twee mid-aughts indie through heavy synthpop.
“Closer” finished their set, sounding urgent and thick enough to have segued directly into “We Are Young” in some alternate-universe Grammys medley. I’m not close enough to the situation to know if their crossover turn has caused as much consternation in Canada as Nate Ruess’s did here, but from that distance, at least, it was easy to enjoy.
Then came fun. Here's the only way I can describe it: fun.'s fans only screamed a little less than the Backstreet Boys' fans did earlier this month. They stood up the whole time, slow ones and fast ones. Entire families, a full venue.
Granted: fun.'s bag of tricks is a little limited–the Platonic form of fun. is a song about staying on a certain side of the bed some nights on your way into or out of a big city, with a wordy verse and a slow, stomping chorus. But these songs, and those tricks, just couldn’t work any better than they do live in a big theater. Their first hit may have seemed a little fluky, but these songs are built like it was a foregone conclusion. They needed to be this big–that’s the point.
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Nate Ruess, too–on Comerica’s big stage he was like a human iTunes visualizer, bounced into the air by their synth-assisted beats and running and spinning among his bandmates. Even the ballads, or the ballad parts, are pitched for the world’s largest bonfire. This is enormous confetti-cannon music.
It climaxed with two enormous-confetti-cannon songs. “We Are Young” is hard-wired for crowd response–its melancholy intro lasts just long enough to draw goosebumps before melting right into the triumphant chorus, and once every voice in the crowd is warm the singalong bridge comes in. It works exactly as you’d expect, even if you’re expecting it. Especially if you’re expecting it.
Launching into “Born to Run” immediately after demands comparisons, and–well, “We Are Young,” like most songs, isn’t “Born to Run.”
But it’s in the same genre–reads the same way. If you feel weird singing “We Are Young” now that you’re old, the comparison seems to say, remember that you’re probably not a broken hero on a last-chance power drive, either. So long as you feel that way, though–or remember feeling that way–these songs will reach you.
I read a piece critical of fun. recently that took pains to point out that Nate Ruess is not, in music terms, all that young–that he was carpetbagging, almost, by writing “We Are Young.” I don’t get it at all–we should be glad he’s doing it. Talents like Tegan and Sara and fun. are not just making good, textured pop music, they're being rewarded for it. That's great!
Escapist, entertaining movies and books and videogames are all made by adults–there’s no novelist Justin Bieber. JK Rowling wasn’t 16 when she wrote Sorcerer’s Stone. When pop music is infiltrated by adults, adults who like to listen to pop music win. I'm okay with Nate Ruess being 31 if all the dancing, selfie-taking 12-year-olds in front of me were, too.
For more photos and the setlist, click through to page three.
Last Night: fun. with Tegan and Sara at Comerica Theatre
Personal Bias: I loved The Format well before I became an Arizonan. (It went on my citizenship application.)
The Crowd: Somewhat younger than you’d expect, if what you’d expect is mostly people with driver’s licenses.
Nate Ruess talking about Phoenix: “The last time I played in this place I threw up in my mouth on stage.”
“I owe most of my life to this fucking city.”
“I’ve been spending a lot of time here lately because I love my parents more than anything else in the world… But also because the food in Phoenix is the fucking shit.”
One Foot Walking the Dog All Alone Why Am I the One At Least I'm Not as Sad (As I Used to Be) All the Pretty Girls It Gets Better Barlights (Portentous pointing at the ground during "This City") Carry On The Gambler We Are Young Born to Run
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Encore: Some Nights Stars