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Fun. amuses with pop hooks and youthful verve at packed Vic - Chicago Tribune

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Fun. amuses with pop hooks and youthful verve at packed Vic - Chicago Tribune
Apr 15th 2012, 15:24

Fun. vocalist Nate Ruess has the makings of a performer who doesn't intend to be defined by one song, no matter how big it becomes. Saturday at a sold-out Vic, he showed his band capable of navigating around a gargantuan hit and, as importantly, seemingly able to handle overnight success without losing sight of modesty or purpose. Not that the crowd's voracious applause didn't momentarily throw him off track. On several occasions, Ruess, overwhelmed by the attention, tried to hide behind the microphone stand, flashed an ear-to-ear grin and buried his face underneath his right arm.

Such adoration is relatively new to the New York indie-pop trio, the year's breakthrough music story. Primarily unknown as recently as last December, Fun. loaned a song to a "Glee" episode and witnessed the cover rendition explode. Still, nothing compared to the impact of licensing the now-ubiquitous "We Are Young" to an automobile manufacturer for a Super Bowl commercial in February. Currently No. 1, the tune has topped the charts for six consecutive weeks and sold more than 3 million digital copies. In an era marked by divisive tastes, Fun. scored a rare crossover into different genres and age demographics.

The momentum continued in the live setting, where a majority of fans in the balcony stood, jumped and hollered for the duration of the 75-minute set. Ruess matched their energy, hopping and bounding around the stage as if he'd just shotgunned a pint of Red Bull. With his boat shoes, sock-free feet, wavy hair and casual shirts, he bore a strong resemblance to Jason Priestley's character during the first season of "Beverly Hills, 90210"—a guy whose good-nature and strong ties to late 80s fashion and sounds Ruess can also relate.

Along with the charm, the front man came equipped with pipes strong enough to dominate arena-flavored fanfare and theatrical crescendos, which should only get bigger at the band's Lollapalooza gig this summer. Aside from a few quirky flourishes supplied by a three-piece support cast, Fun. lacked for originality. Yet it recognized that with pop, catchy hooks and familiarity—not creativity or complexity—take precedent. Nearly every song begat a participatory sing-along or clapping of hands. Easy-to-remember wordless refrains like "ooh-ooh" ("All Alright"), "oh-whoa-oh" ("Some Nights") and "nah nah" ("Walking the Dog") reinforced the simplicity of the arrangements. Skyward harmonies and synthesized orchestrations hinted at organized bombast.

Mostly, however, Fun. built slow, keyboard-driven material into stomping marches and soaring rally cries, each distinguished by optional a capella breaks and concise guitar solos. Thematically, its obsession with the indecisiveness and uncertainty of youth, and the indefatigable hope and trying embarrassment that accompany such feelings and experiences, connected via messages of perseverance.

Any dark subject matter was quickly mitigated by nursery-rhyme melodies and balladic sentimentality. Ruess' constant smile also Functioned as a dead giveaway concerning him and his mates' cheery state, fitting for a band whose collective-rousing songs appear destined to turn into drinking anthems in social bars across the country.

ctc-arts@tribune.com

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