If the Fray isn’t the most inaptly named band in popular music, it’s in the top five.
Rather than evoking the sounds of a skirmish or a conflict, the Fray’s music is inherently congenial, a warm tide of melodic ballads and anthems that lyrically scratch the surface in matters about love, loss and romance.
Friday night, the Denver band drew a crowd of about 3,000 to Starlight Theatre, where, for about 80 minutes, it kept most of them in its sway.
The Fray is led by Isaac Slade, its lead singer and primary songwriter. He seemed to be suffering from some kind of voice issue. Throughout the show he had difficulties being heard (and understood) above his band’s music. It didn’t help that the mix overall was loud, bright and muddy most of the night.
The band is touring off “Helios,” its fourth studio album released in February. It would be the primary focus of the show, filling half of the 20-song set list.
On “Helios,” the Fray took a step away from its signature piano-centric anthems and ballads toward songs with more electronic effects. On the recording, those songs, while dynamic, feel a bit forced and generic. Live, they felt louder and heavier but too derivative to arouse an arresting vibe. The best of those was “Love Don’t Die,” which taps into a funky rock-blues vibe unlike any other song in the Fray’s catalog.
The crowd gave most of the new songs warm receptions but was clearly there to hear the band’s hits, and they played several of them.
The first of those was “You Found Me,” from its self-titled album, released in 2009, then “Over My Head (Cable Car),” its first Top 10 single, which established the band’s primary sound. It’s a piano ballad with a big, rousing sing-along chorus, a sound that drew comparisons to bands like Coldplay and Keane and has been reiterated in other songs, including “The Fighter,” which also issues a heavy U2 vibe.
Slade did his best to keep the energy percolating throughout the set, venturing out into the crowd to start some arm waving and singing. He spent about half the time away from the piano, strutting and dancing like an old-school rock band frontman at the microphone. The light show behind the band provided some extra visual entertainment.
But the loudest and most reverent moments came late, especially during “How to Save a Life,” the title track and biggest hit off its blockbuster debut album. The first set ended with one of the show’s better moments, a stripped-down cover of “Just a Closer Walk With Thee,” a traditional gospel hymn that has been recorded by Elvis Presley, Rosetta Tharpe, Patsy Cline and a host of others. This evening, Slade and his band did it justice.
The show ended with a three-song encore that included “Never Say Never,” the band’s last Top 40 hit. It was sandwiched between two songs from “Helios,” including the finale, “Same As You,” an uplifting ballad awash in electronic effects.
Like much of the Fray’s catalog, it’s a song written to deliver its listeners from the tribulations of life — to help them rise above the fray, you could say.
Closer to Me; Heartbeat; You Found Me; All At Once; Hurricane; The Fighter; Turn Me On; Give It Away; Our Last Days; Look After You; Keep On Wanting; Over My Head (Cable Car); Love Don’t Die; Break Your Plans; How To Save A Life; Wherever This Goes; Just A Closer Walk With Thee. Encore: Hold My Hand; Never Say Never; Same As You.