SXSW 2012: Fun. Draws Thousands on Back of No. 1 Hit 'We Are Young'

Jeff Miller
fun. at SXSW

The New York band wrapped up their Austin visit with a high-energy seven-song set at Stubb's.

The New York band fun. may have the No. 1 song in the country this week ("We Are Young," the inescapable, anthemic single featuring soul singer Janelle Monae), but their success has been so rapid -- and unexpected -- that for their last show of South By Southwest, they weren't even the top-billed (or second-from-the-top-billed) band. But outside at Stubbs, before their set, it was clear that the rabid, young audience that packed the venue was only passively interested in openers Of Monsters and Men (aka the Icelandic Mumford and the Magnetic Zeroes) and the Delta Spirit (whose own breakthrough track, "California," is gaining momentum), and when they were done, the crowd cleared out completely, leaving The Drums to play for a quarter-full house (the Ting Tings dropped off the bill due to health issues).

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Thankfully, fun. wholly delivered, in a short but high-energy seven-song set that, judging from audience reaction and their live chemistry, should prevent them from falling into one hit wonderdom. The occasionally theatrical band was originally envisioned as a side project for three musicians from other groups, and the dynamic between those primaries still feels organic, with former Format singer Nate Ruess throwing knowing glances at hard-jumping guitarist Jack Antonoff (also of Steel Train) and keyboard player Andrew Doth (Anathallo). You can see their long friendships in every blown-away glance, whether it was from the audience knowing the words at the start of the dramatic "Some Nights," the grins that formed during the now-ironic, pop-driven "At Least I'm Not As Sad (As I Used To Be)," or their humor -- and professionalism -- as Antonoff suffered some technical difficulties.

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"We've been through some s---storms at our [SXSW] shows," Ruess said, halfway through. "This is our last set in Austin, and I can't complain." Nor should he. Responsive crowds like the one who showed up for fun. are hard to find at SXSW, but few in the audience seemed to lose focus on the band as their set progressed. A lot of the credit for that can be put on Ruess himself, who is a classic rock singer in many ways: he's not above grandiose poses or clap-your-hands enthusiasm, but -- despite the music's occasional dive into Boston-isms -- he's far from a Classic Rock singer in that it's not all about him. Often, he'll share vocal duties with keyboard player Emily Moore, herself a whirlwind of expressiveness; like a more well-adjusted (and far less acoustic) Chris Carrabba, his high-range singing would sound thin without the support of hundreds of audience members unleashing as well.

Of course, the set's highlight was "We Are Young," which became a sea of bobbing heads, pumped fists, and an unbridled sense of optimism despite the dark undertones in some of the lyrics. But no matter on that. Tonight, for fun., was a celebration: Clearly, 3,000 or so people in Austin were happy to be a part of the party.

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