OneRepublic at Myth, 7/22/13
Photo by Tony Nelson
with Mayer Hawthorne & The County
Myth, St. Paul
Monday, July 22, 2013
When your band's frontman spends his working hours as one of the country's most successful writers of Top 40 pop, it becomes impossible to separate the group's own musical identity from their body of work. Such is the fate of the poor dudes who back Grammy-winning writer and superproducer Ryan Tedder as OneRepublic. Nine to five, Tedder cranks out the kind of expansive, dramatic pop and R&B material that has characterized so much of the last half-decade, with artists such as Beyonce ("Halo"), Jordin Sparks ("Battlefield") and Kelly Clarkson ("Already Gone") lining his resume. But Tedder has long coveted the artistic legitimacy that comes with a touring rock band, so OneRepublic seems to exist as the manifestation of that dream, a blank canvas upon which the songwriter can display his own talents as a singer and performer.
But while Tedder displays admirable professionalism in his tightly crafted compositions for other artists, the Oklahoma native seems to lack any self-awareness about his own band's material.
Slideshow: OneRepublic at Myth
As often happens with stadium-sized groups, a last-minute flight delay caused scheduling to go awry, forcing opener Mayer Hawthorne to perform early and causing an hour-plus turnover between bands. Apparently it gave the members of OneRepublic a chance to gaze down upon our fair state from the clouds, as Tedder compared the landscape favorably to that of Ireland, and declared himself a "lake person."
Photos by Tony Nelson
This was all, of course, after the thoroughly dramatic intro to "Light it Up," which OneRepublic performed mostly as shadows, projected onto a hanging curtain by their extensive lighting setup. During the song's climax, the curtain tumbled to the ground while the lights strobed, setting off an earsplitting screech through the crowd as the room's all-ages female quotient totally lost their shit.
There's no doubting that Tedder knows how to craft a catchy hook. Tunes from their new album Native are as immediately gratifying as the band's earlier work. The trouble seems to come in when the singer-songwriter allows his inevitable pretensions to get the best of him, such as on "All the Right Moves." Beginning with a piped-in children's choir, visualized on the massive, vaguely pyramid-like screen, the song swells to almost goofy levels of pomp by the end of the bombastic bridge section. Anchoring the whole thing to a equally corny swung "folk" beat made the comparisons to hacky musical theater even more pronounced.
OneRepublic's most satisfying songs tend to cash in on their ability to blend the high-drama of Coldplay with more straightforward, heart-on-the-sleeve adult contemporary pop. "What You Wanted" and "Secrets" could have been hits for groups like Kings of Leon, and set closer "I Lived" successfully borrows a page from Mumford and Sons' playbook. The silent boys who back Tedder (who speaks on their behalf between songs) are capable musicians, successfully recreating most of the studio trickery that the band leans on for the live setting.
Ryan himself is a gifted singer as well, with a broad range and a warm, confident voice that he definitely isn't afraid to show off. Armed with a show-stopping falsetto wail, the singer knows how to milk a song for all the possible notes, taking an extended vocal solo at the end of "Apologize" and vamping it into the Rihanna hit "We Found Love," before returning to his own material. Moments like this might have been highlights, had Tedder not used the same trick on the outro of nearly every song.
Therin lies the crisis of OneRepublic. As a vehicle for Tedder's songwriting, unsaddled by the demands of other artists, the music and show quickly swell into bloated, quasi-operatic cheese. Any and all chances to over-sing were taken, as Ryan launched into totally unnecessary scale runs at the end of nearly song as if he scored more points for doing so, giving the performance an eerie similarity to American Idol. Similar leaps of excess also plagued the instrumentation, forcing several extended pauses while cellos and such were pulled out and tuned on the darkened stage.
The god-awful god-shoutout "Preacher" seemed an attempt to showcase Tedder's personal side, but ended up sounding thoroughly moralistic and, yes, preachy. Even more criminal was the band's mashup of "I Got a Woman" and "Gold Digger" that managed to trivialize both songs equally, robbing the Ray Charles composition of soul and rendering the Kanye verses completely toothless. You can bet they did the radio-edit version to avoid ruffling any feathers.
Photos by Tony Nelson
The real disappointment is that an artist with Tedder's gifts could have delivered so much greater of a performance with a stronger editing eye. "Good Life" is an undeniable hit, but when it's buried under so many synths and reaching so hard for contemporary relevance it inevitably falls flat, much like the singer's word-vomit stage banter. It's tough to knock a group so sincerely thankful to their fans, led by a guy who by all accounts is a total sweetheart, but there was never a single moment in the show that didn't feel like OneRepublic was trying far too hard to be profound.
But there also wasn't a single song that failed to connect with the audience. The crowd screamed anytime Tedder nailed a big run, in-between songs, and even at the corny jokes. Tears were shed during the tender ballads, and dancers on the floor went nuts for clubbier numbers like "I Lose Myself." Fans turned out in droves to support OneRepublic, nearly selling out the Myth and crafting homemade fan-club T-shirts to pledge their devotion. It's a shame the band couldn't have given them a more artistically honest performance in repayment.
Critic's Bias: If the biggest venue in town doesn't feel the need to perform a five-stage check in for their shows, there's absolutely no reason the Myth should.
The Crowd: Apparently not from the Twin Cities, judging by their lukewarm response to Tedder's bit about how we get along better than Dallas/Fort Worth.
Random Notebook Dump: Corny props included a lightsaber-esque mic-stand for the singer and remote-controlled light-up beach-balls for the audience to play with.
Light it Up
All the Right Moves
What You Wanted
Stop and Stare
I Got A Woman/Gold Digger (Ray Charles/Kanye West)
Life in Color
If I Lose Myself
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