Continuing the pre-party smush of Grammy Week 2007, my friend Allyson and I headed over to the House of Blues Friday night to see this band called the Fray, who I believe at least 2 million of you have heard of, since you bought their album largely on the strength of a song from a Grey’s Anatomy commercial. I respect that about you, PopWatchers: Your trust that, whatever happens, Grey’s Anatomy will not let you down. And so even though prior to the show I wouldn’t have known Fray lead singer Isaac Slade if he’d hit me in the face with a really sensitive man-stick, I decided I would trust your tastes and check it out for myself.
It should come as no surprise that the band opened with “Over My Head” (“They blew their load,” said my friend Allyson) and closed with “How to Save a Life.” But it takes a special band to hold my interest when I’ve never heard their music before, and perhaps the highest compliment I can pay the Fray (pay the Fray!) is that I enjoyed myself a great deal during the songs in between. They write really endearingly pleasant tunes, these boys (“There are so many of them!” exclaimed Allyson), and every once in a while they do something that grabs you by the throat because it’s really great and original and not at all a total Wallflowers+Coldplay rip-off. (“PLAY SOME COLDPLAY!” screamed a drunk guy behind me.) Plus, they were totally adorable about being at their first Grammys after a number of years toiling in Denver obscurity, and spent a lot of time thanking their parents and their guitar tech and their lighting guy… and all of us, for missing the Justin Timberlake party to be there. (No problem, the Fray: We couldn’t get in, anyway.)
I must give credit to Isaac, first and foremost, for figuring out the art of being charismatic from behind a piano. He plays a teeny tiny little Yamaha, but it’s big enough to hold his weight when he stands on it (as he did during the “Over My Head” singalong) and also manages to produce a solid sound when it needs to. Slade’s voice is this happy blend of pretty much every male singer ever — Allyson said Thom Yorke, I said David Grey — while his bandmate and co-vocalist Joe King fluctuates between a Ryan Adams thing and maybe a little John Mayer. And I stood there scribbling down all the lyrics I could understand — the sound was a little muddy — so I could Google them later and figure out which songs I liked. Here are some: “Fall Away,” which sounds like Coldplay but has a really sweet earnestness to it; “Heaven Forbid,” which has one of those great builds into a hard, rhythmic ending that busts out and hits you in the gut; “Dead Wrong,” which has a melancholy vibe yet elicited fist-pumps from the woman in front of me (who was dressed in a Hard Rock Cafe sweatshirt and a Planet Hollywood t-shirt); and another song whose name I cannot figure out right now because the only lyric I wrote down was “something’s got to-” and that is really not helpful. But it was a rocker that spanned the spectrum from Billy Joel to Nickelback to Van Halen, and had this awesome classical-piano breakdown in the middle that I loved.
And see, it’s that sort of thing I’d love to see the Fray do more of, going forward. I’d like to see them get out of the middle of the road and play around with what it means to be a piano-fronted rock band. Seems like there are an awful lot of well-meaning white dudes singing songs about love and understanding at the moment, but this third song — the one whose name I can’t figure out right now — was a glimpse of what’s possible when these guys stop playing it safe and take their piano and use it to crush the competition. The two new songs they played — a clappy rocker called “Absolute” and a Joe-fronted down home number whose title I didn’t catch — are an interesting start.
So on the PopWatch Concert Review Scale of 1 to 10 — with 1 being the dude playing the Casio outside the Key Club last night and 10 being Pearl Jam in Mexico City — I give the Fray an adorably middle of the road 6.5. When I got home from the show, I downloaded their album off the iTunes, and I’m looking forward to listening to it on the plane ride home. And then I will be edumacated!