If you were at the Seneca Niagara Casino in Niagara Falls on Friday night, in between the clacking of the slots and the calls of the blackjack dealers, you might have heard strains of alternative pop-rock a la 2008 drifting down the stairs that lead to the Event Center.
The Fray was in town, and although the band didn’t stray far from its tried-and-true repertoire of hits, its members still turned up the showmanship and delivered an enjoyable, energetic performance.
Fronted by lead singer and pianist Isaac Slade, the Fray looked every inch the hipster band. A bowler hat, a flannel button-up, long, slightly greasy-looking hair tied back in a bun – they had it all. However, the emotional lyrics and piano-driven melodies that made the Fray famous half a decade ago were still the focus. The band’s songs all sound vaguely alike, due in part to the fact that Slade’s voice seems to specialize in two primary gears: falsetto or rasping. But the band’s members looked confident onstage and genuinely excited to be there as they barreled through some of the band’s greatest hits and several songs off its fourth album, “Helios,” to be released in January.
During “Heartbeat,” Slade jumped off the stage and strutted up one of the main aisles, then hopped up on a chair and made his down the rows until he got to row 18 – which happened to be directly in front of me. As his fans screamed in delight at the unexpected departure from the standard, pre-arranged audience sweep, Slade crooned the remainder of the song as he held hands and high-fived anyone within arm’s length. I’m no super fan of this band, but it was, as the 18-year-old girl next to me exclaimed, “Awesome!”
The band slowed things down with a few ballad-like songs, including “Wherever This Goes” off its new album, which had a particularly powerful beat thanks to its inclusion of just percussion and piano.
Guitarist Joe King also performed a stripped-down, solo version of one of the band’s first releases, “Heaven Forbid,” which proved a huge audience hit.
And then, just over an hour into its performance, the band played one of its most popular songs, “Over My Head (Cable Car).” Slade poured himself into the piano parts to the adoration of the audience and conducted a loud, enthusiastic back-and-forth sing-along on the chorus. The band ended its pre-encore performance with its catchy new release, “Love Don’t Die,” which impressed by its divergence from the Fray’s usual sound. With the song’s urgent, bluegrass-influenced melody, Slade’s distinctive voice found its perfect musical match.
Although the main act clocked in at about an hour and 15 minutes long – which seemed exceptionally short, especially for a show with no openers – the group then dived into a 20-minute, three-song encore, dedicated to an elderly gentleman in one of the front rows that Slade picked out because of his jaunty sailor’s cap.
The highlight, of course, was the band’s biggest hit to date, “How to Save a Life.” The Fray performed an extended version, including both instrumental breaks and a long piano solo that built into a frenzy of noise and excitement from both the band and the crowd.
So yes, it was much of the “same old, same old” for the Fray, but thanks to the band’s enthusiasm and musicianship, that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. And if other songs from “Helios” follow in the footsteps of the catchy, delightfully foot-stomping “Love Don’t Die,” we could have a whole new Fray to look for in 2014.