During all the times I had seen Patrick Stump perform with Fall Out Boy, he never looked quite as comfortable, confident, or happy as he did Tuesday night during his solo set at Martini Ranch.
Now, I do use the term solo loosely, as Stump has a complete and very talented backing band behind him, but you get the picture.
He danced, he played guitar, he even played drums a few times.
We've written about Stump's move from punk to pop, but last night's performance sold me on the shift. Outside of a few covers, the songs Stump played were all his own, and it showed. The sincerity with which he performed was refreshing and it amped up an already excited audience.
The night started off with a short, three-song set by Rocky Fresh, a Chicago rapper who has benefited from Stump's tutelage.
After his opening song, Fresh described how he came to know Stump.
"We are both from Chicago, and he heard a mix tape I made and started following me on Twitter, which was really cool," Fresh said. "And then I was out in California recording and he invited me to his house, which was also really crazy. He gave me a lot of advice and I look at him like my big brother."
While the association might have given the young rapper a step up, he is really getting by on his own merits, as his short performance showed. Backed by a drummer and some recorded beats, Fresh brings the sort of high-energy rap that makes him the perfect hype man to open a show.
Playing to a room that was a little over half full, Fresh immediately riled up the crowd, most of whom had never heard of him before.
By the second song, he had the majority of those in attendance waving their hands in the air with him and singing along the bits of chorus they could pick up.
The long wait time between the first and the second set caused the crowd to calm down, but by his second song, soulful pop crooner John West had regained the high energy level in the room.
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Although his voice sounded a little nasally, West still shined when he hit the high falsetto notes, and the crowd took notice, cheering for him every time. His constantly smiling keyboard player and talented drummer also drew applause.
Following West, Wynter Gordon hit the stage with an act that almost felt too big for the room.
Utilizing a drummer, a DJ, and her own explosive vocals, Gordon danced across the stage during each song and encouraged the crowd to get more involved.
She showed of her raspy, soulful chops on an acoustic cover of Katy Perry's "ET."
Whether sensual or more emotional, her songs resonated with the mostly female crowd and further kicked up the tempo in the room.
But nothing compared to the moment Stump and his band took the stage. Or should I say it the other way around.
After every member of his band took their place and stood silently, Stump rushed the stage to thunderous applause with a cornet in hand and kicked off a highly energetic intro piece before diving into the first full song, "Spotlight."
Right off the bat, I enjoyed the song much more than the recorded version. It's not that I didn't like listening to the song on the Truant Wave EP; it is just that it sounded more full and vibrant live. Stump's voice just seemed more focused and full of depth, which could be a byproduct of the fact that he was not also playing every instrument, like he does in the studio.
It was by far the best his voice -- which is always top notch -- has sounded all the live performances I've seen him give. His execution of higher notes seemed particularly crisp. After a few more songs off of the EP, Stump and crew showed off the band's versatility on "Cute Girls."
After crooning his way through the beginning of the song, Stump deferred to keyboardist Casey Benjamin (a.k.a. Stutz McGee), who picked up a saxophone and played an improvisational jazz solo.
You could tell that the crowd did not know what to make of it at first, but they were so amped from the first few songs that they went right along jumping and dancing anyway.
And you couldn't blame them. Stump's energy was infectious. Not a song went by when he wasn't running across the stage or dancing or crashing the cymbals. He just looked like an artist having a good time. Someone set free and allowed to be themselves.
"I see a lot of individuals in this room," he said to the crowd. "Let's just be us tonight."
Stump ran through most of his known catalog before letting the band take a rest. He then sat down at the keyboard himself to play a few tunes alone.
He started out by playing a slow and stirring rendition of Tom Waits' "Tom Traubert's Blues." Some of the older fans and parents at the bar new the song and helped out by singing along.
He then covered Prince's "Nothing Compares 2 U" before calling the band back on stage.
A few songs later, Stump pulled out the catchy fan favorite "Love, Selfish Love," another that sounded even more impressive live.
With the glut of talent digitally enhancing their voices on records these days, it is hard to believe that Stump's voice is truly this good. I think that is one reason the live performance feels even more impressive.
After "Bad Side of 25," the band began picking up their things to walk off stage in normal end-of-show fashion.
The set seemed a little short and the majority of the crowd stood in stunned silence, expecting more. I, on the other hand, expected to hear some sort of encore chant, but just heard silence.
The large amount of young women in the crowd just didn't know how to go about getting another song.
Finally, a more experienced gentleman up front started a "one more song" chant and the Stump came back out on stage.
He proceeded to sit down at the drum set and play, a la Garth in Wayne's World, before the rest of the band came out and joined him. Stump remained on the drums as they played covers of '90s R&B classics "This Is How We Do It" and Bell Biv Davoe's "Poison."
After the encore, Stump must have decided he had a few songs left in him as he made his way up to he mic to finish the night with some original material.
The band played the high-energy "Explode" before finally getting to Stump's first single off his upcoming Soul Punk album, "This City."
The catchy Chicago anthem was made more enjoyable when Rocky Fresh came on stage and rapped a little bit about his hometown and his new mentor and stayed on the stage to sing-along with Stump to finish the song.
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It was an apt end to a night filled with energetic and exciting performances by artists, both known and unknown. Stump really seems to have found his niche in the space between soul and punk. The space between superstardom and just being a musician.
Wherever he currently resides, Stump looks like he is having fun.
Critics Notebook: Last Night: Patrick Stump at Martini Ranch The Crowd: Mostly teens and 20-something, and their parents. Predominantly female. Personal bias: I am a huge Fall Out Boy fan. Overheard in the Crowd: "I've been straight-edge for 20 years, except for cigarettes." Random Notebook Dump: White dudes from Scottsdale cannot dance. Their violent thrashings are a safety hazard.