Fall Night In, sponsored by 99.5 The River, at Albany’s Palace Theatre brought Pop to Upstate on Sept. 9. The Fray, a Christian-turned-Pop-Rock band from Colorado, headlined the show, bringing a fairly young but devoted audience to the Palace. With a simple yet creative stage set enhanced by a brilliantly designed light show, The Fray put on a good show. They are best known for their 2006 hit singles, “How to Save a Life” made widely popular by Grey’s Anatomy and “Over My Head (Cable Car)”. While fans were thrilled to hear those hits, both the crowd and the band seemed to gain more energy and excitement during the performance of songs from their recently released album, Helios. In particular, the song “Give It Away” was very well received, despite the suggestive ’70s Disco sound, which has been largely avoided in most popular music over the past forty years.
In fact, The Fray incorporated a lot of unexpected, but distinct styles into their songs, including Gospel in “Hold My Hand” and a funky groove in “Love Don’t Die”. Most interesting about this performance though was the way the band collectively emphasized certain instruments. Band members were given time for solos, but the musicians almost seemed to prefer putting the attention on the instruments. During one number, three of the five musicians on stage were banging on drums; for another, four of them were using a keyboard/piano. And, as was expected, The Fray’s harmonies, particularly during the ballads that made them famous were spot on.
The opening acts for Fall Night In included the two-person Pop band, A Great Big World, who are most famous for their single “This is the New Year” (2012) thanks to Glee and Andy Grammer, best known for “Keep Your Head Up (2011).
A Great Big World was the evening’s great big surprise. Ian Axel and Chad Vaccarino, who formed the band while enrolled at NYU, do not look like typical Pop stars. They might be more aptly described as hipsters, with a strong “nerd” factor. At first awkward on stage, once they started playing, power and passion popped out, and the band’s quirkiness became very appealing. Just like the white clothes they wore against the black stage, their nerdy appearance contrasted with a charming performance. Axel’s Sesame-Street-type voice against his fierce keyboarding also seemed like a contradiction, but it worked — really well (bringing to mind a young Elton John). “Land of Opportunity” was especially captivating. Ignoring the lyrics, the song sounds very happy, positive and upbeat (making me want to communicate with smiley-face emoticons). But once you pay attention to the words and Axel’s passionately angry keyboarding, you realize that the song’s meaning is far from happy; it’s actually about a devastating break-up.
“Say Something” the song that attracted the attention of Christina Aguilera in 2013 and launched the young band into fame, was played solo by Axel. The enchanting artistry of his performance left the entire auditorium absolutely silent. But not for long; as soon as Axel finished, the crowd exploded with admiration and as his band members rejoined the stage, they too seemed impressed.
Both, A Great Big World and Andy Grammer, who opened the night, were very interested in dialogue with the audience, telling stories and sharing song meanings. This goes a long way in a live performance, allowing fans to connect with the musicians in a personal way. Grammer is a natural entertainer; not only is his music catchy, but he is also really funny. His song, “Forever” about the amount of time it takes for women to get ready to go out, was a surprising treat. He delighted his young fans with his 2011 hit, “Keep Your Head Up” and managed to engage the older audience members as well with good stories, many related to the Upstate community, where he spent some of his younger years.
All three bands are continuing to tour, but not together. Both The Fray and A Great Big World will be heading to Europe soon, and Andy Grammer is ambitiously traveling throughout the US and overseas. Grammer will perform at The Palace again on Nov. 26 for the O.A.R. show.