I’m leaning on the balcony that wraps around the side of the atmospheric Wilton’s Music Hall, eyeballing a middle-aged man who is perched on a bench to my right. The South Walian support act, Hannah Grace, has just charmed us with her compelling vocals and overuse of the word “lush”. Now there’s a teeny wait until the main attraction appears and Mr Captivated over there hasn’t relinquished his Kindle since he arrived. Until, that is, Nate Ruess starts to sing.
He’s rarely mentioned in the mainstream media without the title of his best-known song tacked in front of his name. Unfairly so, perhaps, considering that his music career began long before We Are Young, “that catchy song with the drums”, became part of his moniker. But tonight’s setlist, which includes three songs from previous album Some Nights, makes me wonder how keen Nate really is to shake off his fun. past.
Almost shyly, he follows his six-piece, multi-talented band onstage dressed in an oversize baseball jacket and trademark ankle-skimming jeans. His understated apparel is a real contrast to the flamboyant showman he becomes when he opens his mouth to sing. Girls and grown women alike (and probably even some men) begin to scream so loudly at the sight of their idol that I wonder if they’ve actually spotted Harry Styles at the side of the stage instead. Nate smiles widely, however, knowing that he is the focus of their admiration.
He wears this smile of unadulterated pleasure throughout the evening, like a child who has just learnt that he can sing. His joy is infectious. We smile as he hops, skips and jumps curiously around the stage as though performing his own version of the Cha Cha Slide. We laugh as he performs a piano-backed ode to London – apparently one of his favourite cities – and jokingly chastises us for our endless traffic jams. We even giggle during arguably his most sombre song, Just Give Me A Reason, as he conducts our valiant attempt at singing P!nk’s part of the Grammy-nominated duet.
Let’s rewind to the opener, Great Big Storm, which is taken from his new album Grand Romantic. One of my favourites of the night, it’s a storming (ha) string-backed success that wouldn’t seem out of place on Some Nights. You would expect that Nate, as a newly solo artist, would want to distance himself artistically from his previous work, but as we are treated to more songs from the new album, it is clear that his present sound is not as different from fun. as he might have hoped. That said, I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing.
Of all the new tracks played, What This World Is Coming To is definitely most divergent from Nate’s fun. days. When I first listened to this earlier in the week, I could only describe it as a rejected Take That acoustic number. It seemed to have all the required elements: the faux-melancholic lyrics, gloomy guitar twangs, anguished harmonies. I’m pleased to report, however, that my opinion has now changed. It may not be the Ruess sound we’re used to, but it’s a bloody good song in its own right.
The fun. and The Format stalwarts are chanted with vigour by the capacity crowd, spurred on by the energy of the singer in front of us. In spite of his constant prancing, Nate isn’t even out of breath and his eyes are as wild as they were when he first appeared. As he dances like a kangaroo on Red Bull, it’s surely a miracle that his voice remains as perfect as the studio versions. His pitch-perfect performance without the aid of autotune further proves that this technique, particularly prominent on bouncy new song AhHa, is merely a stylistic device. These anthems may be made for arenas, but he and the awesome Band Romantic don’t need to say much to get us stomping our feet and clapping our hands like we’re in Wembley rather than Wilton’s.
Fun. is one of pop’s marmite bands, and Nate Ruess may be carving the same reputation for himself as a solo artist. But what’s the verdict of the audience, who leave this kebab-shop-filled part of east London chattering excitedly about the spectacle we’d just witnessed?
We love it!