Monday, December 21, 2009

Who's Ready To Have Some fun.?

Hello, fair citizens of the internet. My name is Amber Valentine and you may know me from stumbling around various bars in Cincinnati, talking loudly about how I just moved here from Chicago or, as I apparently say, "Chic-AHHHH-go". I was only in Chicago for two years yet somehow, soaked up an accent. Seems like I'm a sponge for those things. Now located dangerously close to Kentucky, I'm banking on procuring a slight southern accent within the next couple weeks.

Thus far, my tenure in Cincinnati has blown my tenure in Chicago away but there is one thing Illinois has (other than 4 a.m. last call) that Ohio doesn't and that's Daytrotter. Perhaps the internet's best music discovery tool for the hip and happening, Daytrotter calls Rock Island, Illinois it's home and snags some of the world's finest indie bands while they're en route across the Midwest and coerces them into playing three to five song "Daytrotter sessions" at Daytrotter HQ, the Horseshack, which they then put up on the website for free. That's right, kids. Free and legal. Does it get better? Well, actually, it does. Daytrotter, from time to time, does a Barnstormer tour which takes some fine Daytrotter alums and has them play concerts in barns across the Midwest. The latest of these tours had peaches like Port O'Brien, Dawes, and Drink Up Buttercup, all of whom did their best to bring down the rafters throughout Wisconsin and Iowa. They also host shows featuring such esteemed Daytrotter alums as Sondre Lerche, AA Bondy, and Cincy's own Bad Veins at the pizza parlor that they live upstairs from. All that? It's free too. I'll give you a second to marvel at this before we move on.

My love affair with Daytrotter is long and well documented. If you were to look at my car, you'd see more than a few Daytrotter stickers and on any given day, I'll be repping the site via one of my sweet Daytrotter tees. What can I say? Us music bloggers gotta stick together and the fact that Daytrotter is just so gosh darned special makes me more than happy to spread the word whenever possible.

Shortly before I vacated the "Land of Daytrotter" a.k.a. the state of Illinois, I got to take an adventure down to my second favorite venue in all of Chicago, Schubas Tavern, to see a band called fun., a group which, to me, seemed to come out of nowhere. I like to keep my ear to the proverbial ground when it comes to music. If something new and noteworthy bursts on to the indie scene, I like to know about it. It just makes my life a little easier. But fun. was a band I was completely ignorant about the existence of until they sold out Schubas. In less than a week. Without having even released their debut album.

It wasn't long after this occurrence that some of Chicago's finest bloggers started causing a ruckus about these fun. fellows and I decided to snag their album and see if the band lived up to their name. (Sorry, but I think it's dictated by the laws of God and man that, when talking about fun., you must make at least one pun in regards to them being fun.) And, to be honest, I sort of hated the album. Glossily produced and overpoweringly dramatic, fun. was not my cup of tea. Aside from the opening track, the stellar "Be Calm", I could barely stomach Aim and Ignite.

So why did I decide to go see them at Schubas? Well, for one, Phoenix indie pop outlet Miniature Tigers were opening and any band that sings charmingly creepy songs about watching girls get undressed is a-okay in my book. Plus, the fact that fun. had, seemingly, come from nowhere to cause such a ruckus made me want to like them. So I took one for the team and decided to give fun. another chance. (Plus, to be honest, I didn't pay for the concert and who am I to turn down free music?)

I went into the concert feeling that fun. was a poor man's Queen with a dash of lead singer Nate Reuss's old band, The Format. Two songs into their set, however, I was convinced I had been a damn fool to dislike the trio. Perfectly bringing their slick sound to a live audience with more energy than a six year old on Ritalin drinking one of those giant sized Red Bulls, fun.'s live show was nothing short of magic. After listening to Aim and Ignite, it's hard to imagine fun.'s sound coming across flawlessly live, especially without a backing track, but the band managed. And they were so genuinely happy to be doing it. Their joy was just as infectious as the hook from set opener "At Least I'm Not As Sad As I Used To Be".

It's one thing for a band to convert me to a fan after disliking their album but it's a complete other thing for them to have me in tears. And somehow, fun. managed to do just that.

"The Gambler", a late album track off Aim and Ignite, is a song I had all but completely dismissed when hearing the album. By the time the ballad came along on the album, I was always so tired of fun. that I just sort of tuned out what was going on. Late into the Schubas set, Nate took a break from warbling tricky rhymes and speedy lyrics to tell the audience that his dad was on the road with them, manning the merch table as the band played and he was glad to have him around because he had written "The Gambler" about his parents and with Papa Reuss in tow, Nate got to dedicate the track to his ol' man every night.

If there's one thing that gets at that empty place in my chest where my heart should be, it's sad stories about parents. Hearing Nate's dedication, I decided to be extra attentive to the song and by the time he sang about his mom's near death experience, I wasn't just tearing up. I was straight up crying in Schubas. Since then, "The Gambler" has rose to the ranks of one of my favorite songs of the year and while it's doubtful I'll ever get married, I've decided that if I do, my first dance will be orchestrated by this song. That's a non-negotiable. So I hope all my potential suitors out there are taking note and brushing up on fun. as we speak.

What exactly does this have to do with Daytrotter? Well, it just so happens that the day I saw fun., all those months ago, they had also recorded in the Horseshack. Finally, the session's been put up, complete with one of Daytrotter's signature cartoon drawings of the band. For the most part, the session reminds me of why I wasn't so crazy about fun. to begin with. Acoustic versions of "Benson Hedges" and "All the Pretty Girls" border on adult contemporary elevator music (albeit really catchy, tight adult contemporary elevator music) but closing out the session with "The Gambler", especially such a gorgeous rendition of it (sans the strings and piano you hear on Aim and Ignite), is a heartstring tugger.

I downloaded the session while sitting in downtown Cincinnati, snagging some free wifi and bottomless coffee from Iris Book Cafe, and I'm not ashamed to say that Nate Reuss made me cry again. Just a little though as I was sitting across from my roommate at the time and I get mocked enough by that son of a bitch.


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