First of all, what a strange name for a band. Dorky, really; nevertheless, these fun. kids have become my favorite contemporary pop thing of the last couple of years. And I’ve been sort of astounded, surprised, and heartened by their recent and rip-roaringly fast rise to megastardom. So, I got my tickets months ago and my wife and I went to the Arlene Schnitzer concert hall last night to see the fun. boys play. And it was mostly fun. It was also kind of enlightening–in some good ways, but not always; in fact, it was also enlightening in some really heinous ways.
Let me get the negative stuff out of the way first. Opening band. I’m not much for slagging musicians, even famous or relatively famous ones, so, for now, this opening band will go nameless. Any resourceful person could identify them in pretty short order, or, if you were there, you know who I’m talking about. Two rappers (well, one rapper and another guy who grunted) and a drummer. That’s it. The drummer was clearly accomplished–I could tell by watching him flail around–but could I hear him? No. He was slamming his drums behind prerecorded drum loops or triggers that were a thousand times louder than his acoustic drums, and nowhere near as interesting. First strike. Everything else in the way of “music” was prerecorded, canned. Second strike. Canned music is for dummies. You’d think, with such a straight-forward mix, that at least the sound would be good. Wrong again. Messy, garbled, impossible to discern most of the harmonic information. Third strike.
This is my bias, and I’m totally up front about it. Hip-hop, rap, has never been my cup of mud. I have never learned to appreciate 97.8 percent of it. And this rapper guy seemed to personify all the elements about this particular genre that bug me. I don’t like being yelled at. He yelled at me. Non-stop. I couldn’t understand what he was yelling about. And he kept calling me a motherfucker. Why does he need to do that? And he kept ordering the audience around. And this is most disturbing: the only way he was able to get people in the audience to do a particular thing was by yelling at them to do that thing. “Stand up, motherfuckers.” “Portland, make some noise, motherfuckers.” “Put your hands together, motherfuckers.” And what I find most disturbing about this is that the audience, for the most part, would follow his instructions. They’d stand up. They’d make a noise. They’d put their hands together. They acted, too, as if they were enjoying themselves. Go figure. This band fun., they play sophisticated, melodic, hook-laden, original pop music. During the whole opening set I was sulking in my seat. I was angry, yeah, angry to be subjected to this terrible thing, angry at fun. or their production company or the promoter for hiring these yahoos, and angry at the audience for enjoying themselves. People, don’t you distinguish? Do you have no skills of discernment? And then I was angry at myself for being so angry, and uptight, and hifalutin, and old.
It seemed to me, looking around, that the majority of my fellow audience members were young enough to be the fruit of my loins. They were high schoolers and middle schoolers. Every once in a while I spotted a twenty-something and now and then I’d spy a person of my age group who was probably chaperoning for his or her kids, or, like me, just slightly out of place, there for strictly aesthetic reasons. Nevertheless, the audience was very young, the youngest audience I’ve seen a concert with in a long, long time. So the cynical part of me explained that, no, this audience was too young, they cannot distinguish or discern; they don’t know the difference between greatness and mediocrity and would lap up ANYTHING that was put in front of them and labeled COOL by some marketing force about which they are oblivious and don’t understand a thing. They are happy as clams to put up with and to even believe they were enjoying this opening act. I was so happy it was over. The gin and tonic helped me get through the last two numbers.
Let’s get to the fun part about the fun. show. Doesn’t that period bug you? Aren’t you always kind of fooled into thinking that the sentence is over when it’s really not? I apologize. I’m trying to be true to the music, hence, the period and the lower case f.
fun. provided about the most extreme contrast imaginable to the preceding. The three core members of the band, the guitarist, the singer, the keyboardist, as young (I think) as they are, are consummate players and performers. The sound was full and the mix was comfortable–the only time I felt a desire for earplugs was during the teenage screaming in between tunes and before the encore. Okay, here are some items I found enlightening about the fun. part of the mostly fun show.
Item one: I was surprised and filled with a kind of unaccountable joy to hear an entire audience singing along with each tune, word for word, every single line. I found myself leaving the cynical me behind and just being impressed at the level at which young fans of this band are really attending to the music–which, as I’ve said before, I find rather sophisticated, lyrically, melodically, rhythmically. There is, however, in most of their tunes an anthemic quality–the choruses especially beg to be chanted by throngs of enthusiastic humans. But the verses? And the bridges? And all of that syllabic information in the words? Those tempo changes? Those quiet vocal breakdowns? Yeah, they knew every nuance.
Item two: Again, in stark contrast to entertainers who call their audience members motherfuckers, the fun. guys were kind, sincerely appreciative, funny, relaxed, like normal guys who were genuinely thankful for the warmth and the generosity of their audience. They were, excuse me, having fun. They were not posing or posturing. And this also gave me hope for the future of pop music.
One last item: Related to the last thing, I think, having to do with the kind of human being that makes the art (I don’t really know ANYTHING about what kind of people these guys are, really, so I’m making a huge leap here), the music that fun. makes is infectiously, overwhelmingly, undeniably positive. Even though, lyrically, the songs often deal with characters in some kind of pain or confusion, there rings through most of them an incredible optimism. I think this is good for the world and for music and for young people and for me.
So after the pain and misery of that opening act, the evening was redeemed by and through fun.