Concert Review

Half The Format Still Pretty "fun." At The Clubhouse

It's the one moment where nearly every eye in the sold-out and gooey-hot Clubhouse was turned toward the stage. No chatting, no sipping, no texting, just singing, clapping, and screaming as "fun." the Brooklyn-based project of former Format frontman Nate Ruess, played his old band's biggest hit, "The First Single."

I was not watching the stage. In total creeper fashion, I'd searched out Ruess' former Format bandmate and longtime songwriting partner, Sam Means, in the crowd a few minutes prior, intent on watching him when this moment inevitably came. He wasn't where I'd last seen him though. Instead, he'd made his way out to the front sidewalk to smoke a cigarette sometime before the song started, very probably without knowing or caring when it was coming. There I spotted him, holding court with a promoter, his pregnant wife, and a few friends, seemingly oblivious to the raucous homecoming scene unfolding before his childhood friend ("Nate, Nate, Nate," the crowd chanted during the encore) inside.

Sam -- who agreed amicably to put the band, once Phoenix's undisputed Great Indie Hope, on hiatus, apparently because he'd tired of the touring obligations --  appeared to be deep in conversation. But, I have to think he heard the echo of the audience screaming along to the song -- his song -- with an intensity you rarely see from Phoenix crowds. I can't even speculate on the mix of emotions he must've felt. Though this night was all about Nate's joyous return to town, but fun. certainly bears Sam's mark, even if he's never been part of it. Hell, Sam (apparently) even wrote several of the songs scheduled to appear on it's debut album, Aim and Ignite, due in August.

Inside, the crowd didn't seem to mind that they were getting only half The Format, and that the half they saw was based in Brooklyn. They were just happy to see fun., which is opening on a national tour headlined by Atlanta indie act Manchester Orchestra everywhere but Tempe and Tucson, where the "local" boys closed out the evening. The crowd loudly sang along to The Format's "She Doesn't Get It" and fun.'s stellar first single, "At Least I'm Not As Sad (As I Used To Be)" then chanted for Nate during the encore break. It was well-deserved. fun. is a great band in it's own right, which Ruess demonstrated with his loopy, loosely-structured pop songs and his dynamic presence.

But I can't get over what a tragedy -- and, yes, that's the word -- the split was for Arizona's music scene, leaving one member retired to the sidewalk to smoke and the other living in some far-away hipster haven, where he picked up new fashion cues on display this evening, including overalls and the giant round plastic-frame glasses Williamsburgers now favor. The Format was Arizona's Great Indie Hope. Now, we're merely a favorite stop on the tour for another Brooklyn band. Oh well. At least Nate isn't as sad as he used to be.

Critic's Notebook:

Last Night: fun. and Manchester Orchestra at The Clubhouse Music Venue in Tempe

Better Than: If Nate had stubbornly refused to play any Format material, which he referred to as "covers" throughout the night. Instead, he delivered the hits. He also promised to "learn more covers" if the crowd learns the new fun. record, due in August, before the band returns this fall.

Personal Bias: I liked The Format long before I actually lived in Arizona.

Random Detail: As I reported on my twitter: I spotted Sam, Nate, and a bunch of their other friends had a drink at The Horse and Hound, the sports bar beside The Clubhouse, before the show. I would have maybe eavesdropped a little if the Cavs game hadn't been on.

Further Listening: Manchester Orchestra's excellent single "I've Got Friends." I'm sorry this review is so Format-focused, since MO was the actual headliner.

By The Way: The only time Nate mentioned Sam by name was when he dedicated a sng about having a baby (the record is not out, so I'm not sure of the title) to him. It was a nice moment.

One More Thing: If you ask me, "All The Pretty Girls," should have been fun.'s first single.

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Martin Cizmar
Contact: Martin Cizmar