Monday, March 26, 2012

Fun. concert review: Pomona, CA

photo by Lindsey Byrnes
A version of my review originally ran at

The human element makes a big difference. Saturday’s sold out and spirited Fun. concert at the Glass House was a prime example.
New album Some Nights finds the alt-pop trio collaborating with producer Jeff Bhasker (Kanye West, Beyonce, Jay-Z) on ambitious songs inspired by Queen, Broadway musicals and layered rap/hip-hop efforts with rhythmic programming, loops and auto-tuned vocals.
Anthemic first single and KROQ/106.7 FM fave “We Are Young” is currently No. 1 on  Billboard’s Hot 100 for a third week. Fun. is the first rock act in several years to achieve the pole position with a career debut chart entry.
Many music fans initially discovered the track through an episode of “Glee” last December. A more recent placement, during a Super Bowl commercial for the Chevy Sonic, sent the song’s popularity soaring and helped Some Nights bow at No. 3 on the trade magazine’s top 200 albums tally.  
For this tour, Fun. (the period is part of the moniker) impressively teamed up with Revel & Riot. The gay rights organization had items and info alongside the band’s merchandise  table. Guitarist Jack Antonoff - also a member of New Jersey indie rocker Steel Train – is a “Straight Ally” contributor to the Gay Voices section of The Huffington Post.
Behind the stage in Pomona, tall letters spelled out the group name and LED panels displayed computerized graphics (think old school screen savers). Fun. was augmented by a bassist, second guitarist/keyboardist and drummer.      
A very enthusiastic Glass House crowd skewed young, with a few parents seen chaperoning their children. Teen girls shrieked as soon as Fun. started the rousing 75-minute set with a punchy “One Foot.”
Frontman Nate Ruess was clad in a sweater vest and could’ve easily been mistaken for a student at the nearby Claremont Colleges (Antonoff sported an equality t-shirt). Ruess (who used to lead The Format) delivered a fierce vocal and tender coda while live trumpet, piano and sax were added to the tune’s grand triggered arrangement.
The toy themed hip-hop of “All Alone” proved endearing. A heartfelt “Why Am I the One” was propelled by Andrew Dost’s fine piano work and a soaring group chorus (“Glee” should take it on next) that recalled mid-‘70s period Elton John.
“All the Pretty Girls,” an exuberant rocker from 2009’s “Aim & Ignite,” had everyone clapping and singing along to the lyrics about having a good time on a Saturday night, while Antonoff did a ripping electric guitar solo. Ruess really worked up a sweat – and thankfully downplayed the synthetic vocal effects – during the affirming sentiments and spastic new wave of “It Gets Better.” Older tune “Barlights” featured welcome call and response action, while the uplifting “Carry On,” with a Brian May-worthy solo by Antonoff, was among the evening’s highlights.
A brief stripped down segment including the ultra-dramatic “Be Calm” featured just the core musicians and gave them a chance to relax, joke around and sing “Happy Birthday” to a fan. 
Elsewhere, the buoyant “At Least I’m Not Sad” boasted a cool Caribbean music vibe. But the set closing tandem of “We Are Young” and joyous, tribal “Some Nights” were truly electrifying.   
New Zealand three-piece Avalanche City entertained early arrivals with a lovely 40-minute set characterized by inviting folk/pop arrangements (violin, banjo, accordion, mandolin, and xylophone) and heavenly harmonies. Unassuming singer Dave Baxter basically let the music speak for itself.
Standouts included his intricately picked acoustic guitar playing on “Beautiful,” the group whistling of “Sunset” and title track to the Love Love Love EP, released this week on Roadrunner Records.  

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