With the recent barrage of bad news, not the least of which emanates from the eye of the storm that has decimated the Houston area, music has become more important than ever, not just for its ability to unite but as a way to escape. At the Forum on Thursday, fans were able to do just that, thanks to a night of feel-good music from OneRepublic, with Fitz and The Tantrums and James Arthur opening.
Singer-songwriter Arthur, who won the U.K.’s “X Factor” in 2012 and whose hit “Say You Won’t Let Go” reached no. 1 on the British singles chart and no. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100, did his duty as warm-up act by hyping up the early arrivals. His Ed Sheeran-esque combination of rapping and guitar was a welcomed introduction, buoyed by his startlingly soulful voice.
Los Angeles natives Fitz and The Tantrums proved slightly low-energy on their opening song “Get Right Back,” off their latest album, released in July. But the ordinarily over-the-top group gained momentum as the set progressed, and the audience felt it. Bolstered by two saxophone solos from member James King, co-lead singers Michael Fitzpatrick and Noelle Scaggs carried the performance. Fitzpatrick’s voice soared across the nearly-filled 17,000-seat auditorium, easily reaching the upper registers of the tracks, and Scaggs’ rich tones enjoyed a prominence not heard often enough on the band’s recorded material.
While tracks from their new album were few — six out of 13 — they generally held their own against the group’s catchiest pop anthems from 2013’s “More Than Just a Dream.” The exception was “Complicated,” a cutesy yet risqué song about the way sex complicates relationships that just felt awkward, especially when Scaggs and Fitzpatrick included some suggestive dance moves in their delivery.
Their latest album has received mixed reviews, but Fitz’s purpose — on stage, at least — is to make people dance, and they certainly achieved that on Thursday night. Their cover of the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams” earned chants of appreciation from the audience, particularly when Fitzpatrick instructed all to sing the “moving on” response to his and Scaggs’ “hold your head up” call — although it took a minute for the crowd to grasp what he was asking for. The band closed with their two biggest hits, “HandClap” and “The Walker.”
The minute OneRepublic took the stage, under a pyramid of lights, lasers, and smoke, the Colorado pop-rock outfit endeavored to remind audiences just how many hits it’s produced over 10 years. They brought out crowd-pleasers “Stop and Stare” and “Secrets” right at the start, leaving frontman Ryan Tedder in silhouette while allowing him to shake the cobwebs loose on what is, unarguably, a heavy vocal lift for the singer. Fortunately, he had thousands helping him as the audience echoed along.
Those who have seen Tedder perform more than once probably already know that he’s an underrated showman. Though 38, he zips around the stage with the frenzy of a 20-year-old pop star — constantly in motion, punctuating the beats of his songs with jumps and energetic dance moves. One has to wonder just how much cardio it takes to keep up the pace. But all that ping-ponging also leads to occasional sloppiness, and at the Forum stop, Tedder seemed to struggle at times with the precision of his own lyrics.
Nevertheless, the crowd was ecstatic as OneRepublic’s hopeful message was accompanied by a top-notch production and a spectacular light show.
But despite the rock star bravado, there were moments of humility, too. Mid-way through the show, Tedder stopped to explain how, after touring their last album, “Native,” for two and a half years, he hit and emotional and physical wall. “I was done,” he said. “I was like, ‘I officially don’t want to do this anymore.’ So for the first time in 10 years, we pulled the plug on everything and just went home, and were human beings, husbands, boyfriends, dads, sons.”
Tedder went on to thank the audience members for their devotion. “This tour scared the hell out of me,” he continued. “We aren’t promoting anything, and I was nervous about doing it. And look how many of you showed up tonight. Thank you so much.”
Tedder, who has a distinguished resume as a songwriter, having worked with such artists as Ariana Grande and Jennifer Lopez, added that after seeing Pharrell Williams perform some of the songs he’d written for other artists, Tedder decided to do the same. He then took to the upright piano to perform solo renditions of Beyoncé’s “Halo” and Sheeran’s “Happier,” both of which he co-wrote. Tedder’s covers were gorgeous, and “Halo” prompted more than a few cell phone flashlights to sway in unison. The crowd was also treated to a Spanish guitar medley from guitarist Zach Filkins, to rave applause, before Tedder ran through the venue and assumed a position atop a floor chair to lead the audience in “If I Lose Myself.”
Tedder began the encore with a stripped down version of “Counting Stars,” the audience glimmering with cell phone lights once again as sparks erupted during the pulsing closing lines, “Take that money / Watch it burn / Sink in the river / The lessons I learned.” A cover of Adele’s “Rumour Has It” followed, and included Fitzpatrick, Scaggs, and Arthur on stage as confetti cannons shot silver flakes into the air. One would hope Tedder had a moment to take it all in — and the “good life” he’s made for himself.