At the close of Fun’s brisk 70-minute Friday night set — the first of three sold-out Wiltern shows — impish frontman Nate Ruess lead the crowd through the anthemic “Some Nights,” singing “What do I stand for? Most nights I don’t know anymore.” The lyric felt particularly relevant in context, with Reuss belting in a faux Freddie Mercury accent while his bandmates churned out a near-replica of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Cecilia.” The group may be the biggest new rock act of the year, but until it manages to develop a coherent identity, that line will remain an open question.
Seemingly emerging from out of nowhere earlier this year, the Gotham-based Fun (curiously credited as “fun.” on record) graduated to Wiltern-sized stages largely on the strength of single “We Are Young.” Boasting an epic earworm of a chorus and a “Hey Jude”-esque bridge, the tune rode a savvy blitz of commercial licensing and “Glee” placement to a No. 1 spot on the Billboard singles chart this past spring, where it remained for six straight weeks — a truly remarkable accomplishment for a modern rock band.
The song, which the band sprung slightly earlier in the set than expected, is the type of tune that would have been a hit in just about any era, and the group have clearly yet to tire of playing it. The remainder of the night’s material couldn’t help but sag a bit in comparison, though it was to the band’s credit that the rest of the set never felt like a long tease.
A trio on record, Fun expanded to a sextet for Friday’s show, and it was hard to fault the guileless energy all six musicians invested into even the more half-baked numbers. “It Gets Better” and “Walking the Dog,” for example, were liberated from the irritatingly busy arrangements that box them in on record. What they lacked, however, was a sense for the dynamics required to really sell this type of music in concert: The rockers never got out-of-control enough to be exciting, and the piano-lead ballads never got quiet enough to convey any underlying vulnerability.
Ruess’ vocal choices are curious ones — though he seems to be shooting for straight homage to the outsized theatrics of Mercury and the Scorpions’ Klaus Meine, he often misses that mark, and somehow arrives at a unique style as if by accident. He scarcely hit a bum note all night, yet somehow always appeared to be singing outside of his natural range, fighting his way to the right key through sheer effort. This style fit the boozy, stadium-sized singalongs like set opener “Carry On” and “All the Pretty Girls” perfectly, but the softer songs suffered for it, and a late cover of the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” was particularly ill-advised.
While Fun felt like a work-in-progress presented as a polished unit, Friday night’s capacity crowd responded with endless enthusiasm, and there were hints that the group’s ideas have room to expand. Encore “One Foot” was especially intriguing in that regard, featuring a carnivalesque trumpet riff, a skewed rhythm that could almost be a David Banner beat and a chorus that strives for anthemic status without forcing the issue. If the band can continue to match its gift for hooks with its earnest, cheerful jones for experimentation, it might just forge a clear character for itself yet.
Fun return to the Wiltern on August 18 and 19.