The Fray | 10.11.06

I believe sing-alongs can be fun—in Disney bouncing-ball or drunken karaoke situations. Otherwise, listen to a band you pay to see perform.


The Pageant, St. Louis

Audience reaction and interaction always command a considerable portion of my attention. After spending three hours securing a spot in the back of The Pageant, I knew fan feedback and extreme lighting would make up most of my perception for this show. Aqualung's singer/pianist (and bedhead Brit) Matt Hales was simple, sophisticated, and earnest. He didn't offer pretense or a grandiose presentation; his classically trained refinement shines through. As Hales bestowed his beautiful falsetto voice and sweeping, piano prodigy sway, royal purple lights embraced hypnotizing lullabies such as "Outside." It was a comfort while smushed among oblivious, yammering, kiss-me cancer-fake-baked, catty alpha females.

"Good Times Gonna Come" jammed sound waves with passion and promise, transcending the blocked view and excessive background chatter. An enchantingly sad, descending chord progression accompanied Hale's touching lyrical internalization during "Strange and Beautiful." I was hooked, but the audience residing from middle to back remained in social hour. Perhaps attention spans drifted because Aqualung's sound doesn't have the Fray's slight trace of grit (or insane airplay). In a live performance context, Hales seems creation-focused, lending his entire essence to the product.

In contrast, the members of the Fray are fan-centric, down home, Horatio Alger–style stars. From giving each other piggyback rides onstage to dancing with moves resembling a precursor to the robot, they avoid taking themselves too seriously. It's commendable. Lead singer and pianist Isaac Slade took a few short downstage excursions, snapping Polaroids of the band for a few lucky listeners. The same fans were treated to up-close, occasionally blinding flashes from standing vertical lights. My deepest sympathies extended. It even tortured eyeballs of those of us in the venue's outer reaches. Regardless, those surrounding me took a much greater interest in onstage activity.

Slime green illumination prefaced "All at Once," signaling the first of many sing-alongs. "Over My Head" was completely audience dominated; the Fray should have taken a bathroom break. I believe sing-alongs can be fun—in Disney bouncing-ball or drunken karaoke situations. Otherwise, listen to a band you pay to see perform. It's important to savor a show's audio because hokey lighting visuals may follow. Giant spirals and polka dots twirled on the stage's side wall. It was a perfect recreation of the so-called cover art on pricey elementary school notebooks. I suppose it catered well to the considerable numbers of the 15-and-under crowd.

Overall, Aqualung was more concerned about their musical creation. The Fray placed more energy into audience interaction and recognition. Unfortunately, the latter's divided efforts created a product unequivocal to the band's recorded sound. On a more positive note, duets between Joe King (guitar, vocals) and frontman Slade were always in perfect harmony, supporting and encouraging one another's voice. It's very logical why many gush over a complete "people's band" approach. I prefer concerts that focus on an artist's optimal creative expression, not a cute and brotherly audience relations campaign.

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