The Fray concert this month in St. Louis was somewhat like a jawbreaker: What began with a tough exterior became colorful and exciting, before easing back down to something comfortable enough to sink your teeth into.
The openers, Mae, were disappointing. Dave Elkins’ voice, which on CD bears resemblance to Mest’s Tony Lovato in that melodically sweet but punk sort of way, was surprisingly harsh and incoherent. The audience, still sparse at this point, seemed uninterested in this performance that was more intrusive than entertaining. Though the music itself was a pleasing mix of classic rock and pop punk with simple and uncomplicated lyrics, the unfortunate off-key vocals were enough to make you cringe. Mae also didn’t do much in the way of winning over the crowd with a mere “What’s up St. Louis, how ya feeling?” and a “Goodnight St. Louis” after their set.
What followed Mae sounded like a test of the Emergency broadcast system. A piercing, high-pitched tone rang out and smoke began to pour off stage. This imitation of an electrical accident turned out to be the introduction to the night’s most high-energy performers, Ok Go.
The guys came out in their signature suits, bearing tambourines and tossing Frisbees out to the delight of the ever-growing crowd. This entrance segued into the catchy and upbeat tune “Don’t Ask Me” which set the theme of the set as animated and enthusiastic. It’s easy to see that why their low-budget yet charming music videos are such a hit; these guys are just plain fun to watch. Frontman Damian Kulash kept the crowd laughing with comments like “Whoever has the binoculars in the front row, you’re pretty weird” and to the lawn seats, “Wow, it’s like a big picnic; you have real grass out there…and I would imagine chicken salad.” It makes sense that the band would share management with They Might Be Giants because they share the same eccentric and playful nature. The guys kept up their intensity through the hits “Here it Goes Again” and “Get Over It.” The theatrics were simple, quirky, and entertaining, much like the band itself and included waterguns, anonymous men parading around in orange jumpsuits during the cover of ELO’s “Don’t Bring Me Down,” and a gong whacked ceremoniously by Damian at the end of the set.
Interestingly enough, the crowd’s enthusiasm didn’t seem to match that of the band. Though responsive, it was made clear when the lights dimmed for the third time that the fans had saved most of their love for the headliners.
The show began cleverly, with a heart monitor on the big screen showing a flatline that began to pulse as the crowd grew louder. Although it would have made sense to transition from this into “How to Save a Life,” the band held out on their hit and began the set with “All at Once” which proved to be just as much of a crowd pleaser. This song also included a sing-a-long which would become a regular occurrence throughout the night. It was refreshing to see a pianist as a frontman and Isaac Slade kept the show fluid and mellow. His vocals were soothing and playing flawless. Guitarist Joe King also chimed in vocally and sometimes it was difficult to tell the two apart as they project a similar rich, throaty sound. In keeping with the laid-back ambience, there were drop down lanterns which cast an enchanting light across the stage reminiscent of streaming sunlight and fireflies. In addition, old black and white movies were displayed on the screen for several songs which helped to keep the show intimate and personal.
But just when you thought these guys would lull you into a peaceful sleep, the band acknowledged the somber mood and broke into a lively and hilarious rendition of Shakira’s “Hips Don’t Lie” which included a fire-eater and men in grass skirts dancing onstage. The band also shook things up with a new song that had country roots and explained that it was the start of working in a different direction.
As the night drew to a close, it would seem that most of the bases had been covered. The crowd’s reaction to the opening riff of “How to Save a Life” was just short of insane and it really felt like through the course of the night, the band had made a real connection to their fans. With that being said, the finale of “Over my Head” was bittersweet. A disco ball then emerged from the ceiling and Isaac broke into the hook for Oasis’ “Wonderwall” that you could tell was heartfelt and very fitting.
Seeing this genuinely humble and entertaining band was a treat and if the piercing shrieks of fan’s approval are any indication, they won’t be gone too long.
Photo by Rod Blackhurst