Saturday, September 26, 2015

Despite an Entertaining Set of Songs, The Fratellis Stop Short of Meeting My Goals -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

The Fratellis
w/ opening act Grizfolk
The Vic, Chicago
September 24, 2015

No song has made Chicago happier in recent years than one by the Fratellis.

But even before "Chelsea Dagger" came to follow every goal scored by the Blackhawks, the Scottish trio delighted me.

I loved their 2006 debut album, Costello Music, from the first time I heard it (upon UK release), and wound up ranking it as my second favorite album of this century's first decade.

Though the Fratellis aren't all that sonically similar to the Ramones, because of the three unrelated bandmates adopting the names Jon, Barry and Mince Fratelli I always imagined a certain kinship, and the two shows I'd seen in 2007 & 2008 had a punkishly mirthful rambunctiousness.

While each have had some nice moments, subsequent Fratellis albums haven't wowed me on par with Costello Music and at some point, I believe the band broke up or went on an extended hiatus. (I recall Jon Fratelli being brought to town on his own to perform "Chelsea Dagger" amidst the 2010 Stanley Cup.)

So I was glad to note the Fratellis being back in action and playing a gig at the Vic Thursday night--touring behind a new album called Eyes Wide, Tongues Tied--and tickled to be able to get a ticket at the door for just $25.

Despite the show not being a sellout, I was also heartened to be part of a good-sized, avidly adoring crowd. And given what the Fratellis played--not only a good chunk of Costello Music but also several other songs whose live versions enhanced my appreciation--it should have been a gleeful night.

And rather merrily, an unknown-to-me band called Grizfolk delivered a terrifically enjoyable opening set.

With a sound somewhat akin to Imagine Dragons with less "bro"ness, they began with a song called "Waiting for You," sounded good throughout their 30 minutes and  announced a new song called "Bob Marley" which didn't really have any reggae flavor, but the "Bob Marley's playing on the radio" chorus was pretty catchy.

As the Fratellis took the stage, the first thing I noticed was that singer/guitarist Jon Fratelli looked far skinnier than I ever recalled, to the point of being wiry if not gaunt.

Fitness is never a bad thing, but he looked skinny enough to make me wonder if he had been ill or otherwise addled. I've found no substantiation of anything along these lines, so don't mean to cast unfair aspersions, but while he made it through the 90+ minute set without any noticeable problems, his singing and even guitar playing didn't always seem that hardy or hale.

On paper, not only would the setlist have seemed pleasing to me--there isn't one yet posted to and the show didn't exactly match recent dates--but some less familiar tunes ("Baby Don't You Lie to Me," "She's Not Gone Yet but She's Leaving," the wonderfully Stonesy "A Heady Tale") turned out to be among those I enjoyed most.

But in a variety of hard-to-pinpoint ways perhaps imperceptible to others--and if you were there and loved the show, I'm honestly glad you did--I found the performance to be somewhat muted, far from rollicking and relatively joyless.

As @@@1/2 (out of 5) should suggest, I'm not saying I hated the show, nor insinuating that there was anything sloppy or half-hearted about the effort the band put forth. 

But with expectations of the Fratellis--augmented onstage by a keyboardist--to be deliriously fun, on an evening when everything was ideal about my personal comfort and vantage point, the end result was merely "OK."

I'm not sure if something was wrong with the mix, if Jon's guitar and vocals weren't turned up loud enough, if the band's gotten tired of blasting through the Costello Music cuts the way they once did, if a sluggish professionalism has supplanted reckless abandon, if it was just an off night or if I just wasn't feeling the vibe.

Due to my great affinity for their debut record, songs like "Henrietta," "Everybody Knows You Cried Last Night," "Flathead," "For the Girl," the wondrous ballad "Whistle for the Choir" and others couldn't help bring a certain delight, but probably didn't match the exhilaration of simply listening to the album at high volume.

Considerably more vitality seemed to be pumped into songs I didn't know nearly as well, including those mentioned a few paragraphs up, "Jeannie Nitro" and the show closing "Until She Saves My Soul."

I loved hearing the crowd chant, "Chelsea! Chelsea!" to bring the band back onstage for encores, and reveled in "Chelsea Dagger" like everyone else, though found it strange that the band didn't even mention the Blackhawks given than much of their local renown is tied in. (At show's end, with songs having been sandwiched around "Chelsea Dagger," bassist Barry Fratelli did hold up a Blackhawks t-shirt that may have been tossed to him by a fan.)

With a prime balcony seat, no ticket surcharges, one of the better opening sets I've seen in awhile, some of my favorite songs of this century, increased appreciation for songs beyond those I already loved and idyllic logistics thanks to the Belmont "L" being just steps away, it certainly was far from a bad night.

But while the Fratellis were once a bad I giddily championed to anyone who might care, I was left less convinced that even I still should (at least live and in person).

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