Editor’s Note: Reflections on fun. Concert at Calvin College

by tigermanifesto


From left to right: Andrew Dost, Nathan Ruess, Jack Antonoff

This post is designed to make up for the lateness of the last one, which was published today rather than the usual Wednesday. The reason that it was not published relates directly to the headline of this article, so I think there is a certain poetic justice in publishing this reflection as penance for the lateness of the last one.

All of which is to say I was quite busy on Wednesday night, so busy that I neglected my beloved Alexius. I regret this, but that regret is far outweighed by the enjoyment I had at the fun. concert last night. I have but a few points that struck me as particularly relevant for discussion. Hopefully you will agree, and for any Calvin students reading who were at the concert, you’ll probably have a better grasp of what I’m talking about but I will attempt to make this as accessible as possible.

1. All of the Lights

I jest. Kanye West did not make an appearance on stage last night. Only so many blessings are possible at once. That said, there was something of the rapper and music impresario’s characteristic self-consciousness and glitz in the stage presentation. The itself was performing in front of an ebullient crowd of excited college students and a sprinkling of others, but behind them shone an array of lights that accentuated the drama of the night. Lighting director Jackey Finney (who was given some “glowing” coverage over at NPR) has polished and refined the light show to a fine sheen. The audience thronged in darkness, basked in a quasi-heavenly light, and rocked to rhythmic strobing effects. As a visual experience, which for me was partially obstructed by my location, the concert was a great success.

2. Sound and Fury

I can’t speak for the fury, but there was, befitting the concert setting, plenty of sound to be shared in common. Long, intimidating racks of speakers hung on cables from each side of the stage, the band nestled in the middle, I thought, almost like tank commanders. Opening act Miniature Tigers put on an energetic stage show that was, unfortunately, slightly diminished by an odd sound mix that tended to drown out the guitar and bass. After they got the audience going moderately well with their concluding number, MT cleared off stage and I was somewhat concerned about how this arena (and arenas are justifiably derided as sonically inferior music venues) would contain fun.’s own set.

Fortunately, the bass and guitars were not just audible but vibrant. There were imperfections in the sound mix, and had I not known nearly all of the lyrics I might have had some trouble comprehending the vocals over the roar of the crowd and the instruments. Whatever issues I had, though, were quickly set to rest once the band took the stage and invigorated the crowd with a performance of “Carry On.” Live, fun. is not the most adventurous as far as straying from the recordings. At times, lead singer Nate Ruess would create space for crowd-pumping interludes, but the songs were largely identical to their counterparts on the album.

That said, of course the experience was radically different at that volume and in that atmosphere. Nearly all of their songs benefitted from the massive sound system and the infusion of energy (almost a heart transplant in some cases) into them. Guitar solos were edgier and even more Queen-like, the Autotune effects on Ruess’ mic were toned down, and the crowd added something definite to the experience.

Ending the set with the Some Nights all-star lineup of “Some Nights” and “We Are Young (sans Janelle Monáe),” along with a cover of Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” the band had stirred the crowd to unleash a deafening scream of approval. I was initially unnerved, remembering Roger Waters’ description of arena concerts as resembling Fascist rallies. Finishing the first set with  Lo and behold, a war chant broke out at one point. It was all orderly and under control, though, and an encore duly followed. My two favorite songs were featured, and I leapt with joy hearing “One Foot” and “Stars” in a transformed brilliance, almost overwhelming.

3. The Message

Fun. was there first and foremost to bring their music to the Calvin masses, so the main substance of the show was flashing lights, guitar solos, pomp, and genuine engagement of entertainment. That said, the band is touring college campuses in the first place in order to create a greater awareness for LGBT rights issues and environmental problems. Before unleashing the encore, guitarist Jack Antonoff took an opportunity to speak from the stage. For a brief moment, I was afraid that the crowd’s blood would run cold, that there would be a pall set over the night. Happily, that did not happen, and when Antonoff said “God loves gay people!” there was an instantaneous and overwhelmingly positive reaction from the crowd. It was almost deafening. My heart leapt. I’m not sure I believe in good vibes, but after last night I’m not sure how long I can deny them.

4. You Can’t Always Get What You Want

Not all was well behind the scenes of the concert. Diplomatic discussion and wrangling had been necessary to get the band to limit the presence of fun.’s Ally Coalition (the band has responded to the concert here), which was supposed to have booths in the arena lobby. When the band played the cover it was obviously a pointed statement aimed at the college administration and the church leaders who tied their hands. I thank fun. for coming here. For the sake of the LGBTQ community here and the people whose stance on the issue is clouded or undeveloped, they performed a great service. Hopefully my church and my college can come to a more loving and open position on this issue. What the response of the crowd there shows, though, is that for hundreds and hundreds of the new minds of the Christian Reformed Church, the LGBTQ equality issue is simple and clear, and they will no longer allow it to be obfuscated and confined to sterile back rooms.