Concert Review: The Fray w/ Jack’s Mannequin @ Molson Ampitheatre, Toronto 6/23/09

From a young age, music driven by pianos and keyboards fascinated me.  Be it Elton John’s Rocket Man or the progressive works of Pink Floyd, there is something about the timbre of that instrument that captures my spirit, mesmerizes my mind and leaves me wanting more – always more. If I were to compile a list of artists I love, you would find the vast majority build their work around a piano.  If I were to name off my favourite songs of all time, many will contain piano as a dominating sound.

Needless to say, when I stumbled onto Something Corporate in 2004, I fell in love.  How could I not?  The pop-punk outfit from California combined alternately moving and amusing lyrics with the alt-rock sound I loved, centred around the frenetic pounding on the Baldwin by Andrew McMahon.  Witnessing them perform at Edgefest, I was enthralled and thoroughly entertained.  And yet, for some reason, it took me until Andrew McMahon parted ways and created his new band, Jack’s Mannequin, to fully embrace his work.  That said, his work with Jack’s Mannequin is in some ways stronger and more mature on the whole.

Worry not;  I’m getting to the headliner of the show, The Fray.  I stumbled onto them very late, courtesy of my ceasing to listen to the radio or watch Muchmusic after 2002.  It took reading of all things an RPF (Real Person Fanfiction, for those out there who are not nerds) about Kristen Bell, Jason Doherty and Joshua Jackson taking down Scientology and rescuing Katie Holmes (and downloading the compiled ‘soundtrack’) for me to give The Fray their fair shake at my ears.  Over My Head (Cable Car) quickly became an anthem, and later, my favourite song to sing on Singstar Karaoke.  As with Andrew McMahon’s projects, The Fray combine elements of standard alt-rock with a pop-piano sound, resulting in moving ballads that verge more to the folkier elements of City and Colour or Howie Day at their core.

A tour with both of these acts on the bill was, naturally, too delicious to resist.

Jack’s Mannequin, in their second show I’ve attended (the first being an opening set for Paramore) did not disappoint at all.  Andrew, hair now dark brown instead of the blonde I’d grown used to, took the stage and immediately commanded the audience, many of whom were there primarily to see his band.  Such is the cult following he’s managed to garner.  Whirling through a set with an even blending of tracks from the first and second albums, Andrew sang, laughed, chatted the audience up and frequently took to the top of his piano.  His energy on stage is on par with another piano man, Ben Folds.  Come to think of it, that would be an incredibly well-matched tour (take notes Ben, and give Andy a call).  Even the nonchalant observers beside me in the stands eventually clapped and cheered loudly, for Andrew is a man full of vitality – not surprising given his successful battle with cancer recently.  His joie de vivre reminds me of Melissa Etheridge, who I have thoroughly discussed in a review last year.  As a pleasant bonus, we were treated to a Something Corporate track, the bonus Watch The Sky from the Japanese import of North.

It’s difficult to choose a highlight from a stellar set, but I would have to go with Swim as one of the highest points.  It’s a song meant to inspire those who are ready to give in to keep moving forward, to tread water if you will, until the strength returns, with Andrew urging listeners to “swim for the music that saves you”.  For someone whose oxygen is music, truer words were never spoken.  The song is delivered with such an earnest and raw vocal that I dare anyone not to be moved.  I cannot recommend this band enough, and their second release, The Glass Passenger, is a must-hear.

After a small break, The Fray took to the stage, their black and white outfits reminding of No Doubt from the previous week.  Opening with an ethereal and acoustic short version of Happiness, they quickly moved into my favourite song, Over My Head (Cable Car), effectively ensuring I would enthuse over the show.  Well played, Fray boys.  The set moved between their two major releases, showcasing most of the tracks from each with a guest spot for Oceans from their first EP.  The audience and I were in agreement on the strength of the set, given the squeals and cheers greeting each song and the numerous sing-alongs throughout the night, particularly with Over My Head, How To Save A Life, You Found Me and, to my delight, their cover of Kanye West’s Heartless.

If there was one weakness in The Fray’s performance, it would be that a lot of slower songs seemed to clump towards the middle third of the set, leaving the show in a bit of a lull.  Granted, many of their songs are mellow in feel compared to, say, the bouncing delivery of Dark Blue by Jack’s Mannequin, but it did feel a little slanted.  It was a minor details, and ultimately I heard every single song I wished to hear aside from Where The Story Ends, one of my favourites from the new disc.  I have very little to complain about:  vocals were tight, the band was tight, and the light show a perfect accent to the feel of the set.

If you have a chance to catch this tour before it wraps, do so.  It makes for a moving, ethereal night of music that cuts to the soul, lingering long after the last haunting notes.

SETLIST – JACK’S MANNEQUIN

Dark Blue
Bloodshot
Crashing
Swim
I’m Ready
Bruised
La La Lie
Hammers and Strings (A Lullaby)
The Mixed Tape
Spinning
Watch The Sky (Something Corporate)
The Resolution
American Girl (Tom Petty)


SETLIST – THE FRAY

Happiness (intro)
Over My Head (Cable Car)
Absolute
She Is
Say When
How To Save A Life
Ungodly Hour
Oceans
Enough For Now
Syndicate
Little House
We Build Then We Break
Never Say Never
You Found Me

ENCORE
Heaven Forbid (King solo and acoustic)
Heartless (Kanye West)
All At Once
Happiness

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