News Column

Review: No fun with Fun. at the Greek Theatre

September 4, 2013

YellowBrix

Sept. 04--When the nerds get their revenge, it isn't always pretty.

At the Grammy Awards, in February, the New York pop-rock band Fun. was named best new artist and won the the coveted song of the year prize with "We Are Young," the hit electro-glam anthem that topped Billboard's Hot 100 for six weeks in a row last year.

It was an impressive showing from a band whose 2009 debut barely made a dent, and whose core members (singer Nate Ruess, guitarist Jack Antonoff and keyboardist Andrew Dost) had been toiling at various underground pursuits for long before that.

And given the unabashedly geeky vibe of its album "Some Nights" -- a kind of hip-hop overhaul of the big-lunged Broadway musical -- Fun.'s accomplishment felt vaguely inspiring. The little guys, it seemed, had finally made it big.

What a difference six months of stardom makes.

On Tuesday evening Fun. played the first of two concerts at the Greek Theatre -- part of its so-called Most Nights tour -- and what once seemed warmly uplifting about this crew of wiseacres had turned chilly and domineering, as Ruess bullied the capacity crowd into singing along with him while his bandmates brandished their stylistic quirks like lumberjacks might.

The gig began promisingly, with Ruess, Antonoff and Dost, all wearing tuxedos, gathered tightly around a bank of keyboards for the swooning introduction to "Some Nights"; earnest and a touch unsteady, the moment had some appealing high-school show-choir charm.

But then the stage lights came up, three additional musicians appeared and suddenly Fun. was spraying weaponized good cheer all over the place, scarcely pausing to let its songs sink in or to lend some believability to thoughtful-guy lyrics like those in "Why Am I the One," where Ruess wondered, "Why am I the one always packing up my stuff?"

The ska-flecked "Walking the Dog," from 2009's "Aim and Ignite," sounded like Vampire Weekend after a course of human growth hormone; "It Gets Better" had a drum-off between Antonoff and the group's percussionist as well as confetti blasting from a pair of cannons on either side of the stage.

As wearying as I found it, the audience at the Greek seemed entirely untroubled by this relentless one-dimensionality.

Fans happily agreed to Ruess's demands to join their voices with his, especially after he revealed that he'd recently moved to L.A., making Tuesday's concert a "hometown show" for Fun., as the frontman put it.

One suspects Ruess headed west to solidify his place in the pop-industrial complex: He has a Top 40 duet right now with Pink ("Just Give Me a Reason") and co-wrote Kesha's 2012 hit "Die Young."

And when Fun. lit into "We Are Young" and "Some Nights" on Tuesday, it reminded you of how deeply crafty the band's music can be, with its soaring vocal melodies and chewy off-kilter textures. Ruess will probably fare well here.

On his own, anyway. Further success for Fun. itself may end up endangering the misfit appeal that brought the band fame in the first place.

___

(c)2013 the Los Angeles Times

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