Some of you old timers may know it. It’s an odd type of thrill. The idea that you have been privy to a secret that only a select few know. Like being in on the inside joke before it became known to others. It’s seeing a band– before they hit it big.
U-2 at the Paradise Rock Lounge in 1983,
The Rolling Stones open with Mozart in 1562 (I kid)
Dave Matthews in a coffee shop in Charlottesville, VA in 1991.
Jeff Buckley at Sin-é a few years later.
Every band has had its modest startings, and, being a teenager, I had never really heard a band before they hit it big.
Until I heard the Fray last November.
It was a cold night on November 5, 2005– exactly the time and place where one might find musical gold. The Orpheum is an alleyway theatre at the end of Hamilton Place in Boston’s Park Street Gardens, the border between the gleaming neighborhoods that hold the 40,000 seat Boston Garden arena, and the blocks that once held the infamous Chinatown Combat Zone– where there are clubs that can’t fit 40, much less 40,000.
The funny thing is, that night; no one is coming to see this unknown band from Denver, CO. They are coming to see Piano Rock living legend/maestro/creative genius Ben Folds, the main act that the Fray is opening for. While the band begins its set, most of the people who were able to get tickets to Folds’ concert are still clambering off the Boston Trolleys (Or “T’s,” as us locals affectionately refer to them). The ages range from teenaged babysitters to middle-aged baby boomers, and they all stumble down the dark street, away from the Boston Common, towards the Orpheum’s grimy exterior, in search of their bi-annual Folds fix.
Inside, Isaac Slade (see photo at right), the front man of The Fray, launches into the piano solo that heralds the song that the band has now become known for (“Over My Head”). Slade and his mates have come a long way from their hometown of Denver, Colorado, and they are enjoying the new adulation that comes from a national tour. The theatre is less then half full, but gradually, all private conversations cease, and the members of the Fray have the full attention of the crowd. Many cheer… but others simply see the Fray as the last buffer between them and Ben Folds— they wait for the set to be over.
I leave the theatre awed at the musical genius of Ben Folds, but a little nagging thought pushes its way into my head.
Who in the hell are The Fray to make me want to hear them again? So I figure on doing what I always do when I hear a band whose songs stick in my head. Listen to their best work over and over, until I get tired of them, and eventually, when they fade further down on my playlist and slip from my mind, I look for a new band.
Fast forward to April 26th. The Fray is still on my mind. I find their album How to Save a Life (buy it here) to be the best freshman work I have ever heard, and the title song to be melodic, adrenaline-filled, and touching. When I hear their signature track “Over My Head (Cable Car),” on the radio in Arizona, or on the top 10 list on iTunes, or an article about them in Rolling Stone magazine, I get excited, and I know that, even if I missed U-2 in ’83—I saw the Fray in ’05.
Take this home and chew on it.
P.S. I will keep writing about these guys. They rule.