The Fratellis play it cool at the Varsity
Better Than: listening to a drunken pub joining together to sing "Wonderwall." Although they've only got one album in the bag, Glasgow's the Fratellis sold out the Varsity Theater on the strength of their singles and the buzz of their success in the UK. After catching the band's stripped down acoustic set earlier in the evening at the Electric Fetus, I was curious to see how the faux siblings' pub-rock radio hits sounded fleshed out with drums and electric guitars during their headlining spot at the Varsity. Singer/guitarist Jon Fratelli showed brief glimpses of guitar chops, but exercised restraint throughout, keeping the songs tight without any extended solos or jamming. The curly mop-topped frontman spoke sparingly, offering just a quick line or two between songs, never really engaging with the audience. Short on galvanizing leads, and lacking the sufficient dog and pony to dazzle the eyes, the band's lyrics, particularly their reliance on vocables like the "ba-da-ba" chorus part of "Flathead," seemed hung out to dry. Backup Fratellis Mince (drums) and Barry (bass) both sang and played with enthusiasm, but neither ever spoke to the crowd. The band was tight, upbeat, and catchy like a bad cold, sure they made me want to bop my head and tap my feet, but it also felt disappointing. They were just showing up to play the hits. The crowd sings along. Dancing ensues. The band gets paid. Everyone goes home happy. They've sold millions of records in the UK, sold-out venues larger than our fair Varsity Theater in mere minutes, and, of course, they snagged coveted airtime in an iPod commercial here in the states. Maybe I have no right to expect them to be charged up for the gig in our neck of the woods, but a little more personality would have gone a long way toward making this a show rather than a showcase. Critic's Notebook Personal Bias: I never seem to favor a band presenting their material live the same way it sounds on the album. Random Detail: Drummer Mince Fratelli played acoustic guitar, even soloing, during the band's in-store at the Fetus, but stuck to the kit at the Varsity. By the way: If you think the band sounds influenced by Mark Bolan, check out the video for "Chelsea Dagger" where lead Fratelli Jon looks to have raided the late T. Rex frontman's Slider era wardrobe.
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