fun., Ikeda Theater at Mesa Arts Center, 5/31/12

fun. Ikeda Theater at Mesa Arts Center Thursday, May 31

See also: Nate Ruess Has Some fun. At Zia Records

fun. frontman Nate Ruess wears his heart on his sleeve, and that's why it's so easy to get into his head. His lyrics -- part stream of consciousness ("My friends are in the bathroom, getting higher than the Empire State"), part diary entries ("So this is it? I miss my mom and dad for this?") -- practically invite you in.

The guy's got something on his mind, and he wants to tell you what it is. His lyrical transparency isn't the only reason for fun.'s total domination of the Ikeda Theatre stage at Mesa Arts Center last night. No, keyboardist Andrew Dost's piano pop melodies and guitarist Jack Antonoff's classic bar rock affectations had a lot to do with it, too (as did the live band: bassist Nate Harold, drummer Will Noon, and guitarist, keyboardist, vocalist, saxophonist, all-around-charmer Emily Moore). But Ruess is the centerpiece, the guy bouncing around the stage, the guy telling jokes about Glendale's cat killers, the guy pouring it all out.

The guy, most clearly, who felt very, very happy to be home.

After all, it was the Phoenix metro area where Ruess first experienced the kind of screaming intensity he now does all over the country. I didn't spot any Format shirts -- not like I did when the band played Zia Records earlier this year -- but the hometown connection is obvious. "We've got a good thing going Mesa," Ruess said smiling.

So much of Some Nights, the band's blockbuster album, is concerned with leaving Phoenix that returning could feel strange -- that whole you can't go home again thing -- but Ruess seemed happy to be back, and the sea of screaming fans couldn't have hurt. (I mean it, the kind of high-pitched, piercing noises that can only come from excited teenage girls.)

Antonoff was nearly as animated as Ruess, soloing and washing the taut pop compositions in sheets of distortion. No one in fun. slacks off, but he's clearly the most "rock 'n' roll" of the bunch -- striking poses while Ruess dances and Dost keeps his head down at the keyboards.

Ruess told a story about being home in Glendale on Wednesday -- a story about how his parent's neighbor knocked on their door and handed them $30 with a brief explanation about how she killed their cat. "My dad was like, 'We don't have a cat,'" Ruess laughed, and Dost and Antonoff chimed in, and by the end of the convoluted story things had turned into Of Mice and Men meets Bridges of Madison County meets Hotel for Dogs. (One audience member took story time as a chance to shout out "dog problems," an effort to tie things back to The Format met by a curt "don't fuck up the punch line" from Ruess.)

The sonic and stylistic differences between songs from the band's debut, Aim & Ignite, songs like "All the Pretty Girls" and "At Least I'm Not As Sad (As I Used to Be)" and 2012's more synth-based, hip-hop-indebted material blurred in a live setting.

Aim & Ignite often felt clogged by its own ambition -- a little too caught up in its own orchestration -- which is why Some Nights works the way it does, streamlined but not sacrificing any of the quirks that define the band. In concert, the band leaned toward the straightforward approach, but the six-piece outfit knew the ins and outs, that the dancing acoustic figure that ends "The Gambler" is as important as the swelling synth bass on "We Are Young," the band's signature hit.

And a hit "We Are Young" is. It's the kind of surefire, pointed and direct single that audiences sing along to and bands can end their sets on.

But fun. didn't end with it, following it up with an impassioned reading of the Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want" before shuffling out for the encore.

It's a bold move, but one that indicates why fun. is at the top of the game right now, and indicates they plan to stick around for a while: following "We Are Young" with one of the greatest songs ever written actually felt a little disappointing.

Set list: "One Foot" "Walking the Dog" "Why Am I the One" "All the Pretty Girls" "All Alone" "Barlights" "Carry On" "The Gambler" "At Least I'm Not as Sad (As I Used to Be)" "We Are Young" "Can't Always Get What You Want" (Rolling Stones)


"Some Nights" "Take Your Time (Coming Home)"

Critic's Notebook:

Last Night: fun. at Mesa Arts Center The Crowd: Young (that's no joke), excited, and vocal (hey, lady -- screaming that Nate is sexy all night is really only fun for you). Random Note: Maybe it's time to officially declare dead the rockist rule of not wearing a band's shirt to said band's concert. Is This the Real Life, Is This Just Fantasy? Yeah, guys, Queen is the indie influence in 2012. Rolling Stone songs I could totally hear fun. performing: "She's a Rainbow," "Star Star," "Wild Horses"

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