Wolf Trap bills them as a “piano-driven pop rock quartet with impassioned smash hits.” Blurt magazine praises them for “the way they seek out views of the world—and not just about their own lives—and share their observations through music.” But, you might just know them as the relatable pop rock band that’s responsible for a good share of airtime and dashboard drumming on your drive home from work, responsible for hits like “Over My Head (Cable Car)” and “How To Save A Life.”
Whatever you might know them as, The Fray—the four-time Grammy Award nominated band featuring Isaac Slade (lead vocals, piano) , Joe King (rhythm guitar, backing vocals), Dave Welsh (lead guitar), and Ben Wysocki (drums)—rocked out at The Filene Center at Wolf Trap on Wednesday night, delivering a soulful performance that showcased how the band—having just released its fourth studio album Helios—is just as relevant and pithy as ever.
The Fray opened with a medley of their hits, including “Closer To Me,” the uptempo “Heartbeat,” and one of their big hits and fan favorites “You Found Me.” The band, which was situated on platforms in front of a large lighting grid with rounded circular rotating LED lights and lighted poles that illuminate in sync to the music, was high voltage throughout the evening and almost in their own world—barely stopping to acknowledge the audience as they pounded out song after song from their vast repertoire.
The Denver-based quartet’s earnest and melodic songs have been striking a huge chord with audiences. Formed in 2002 and signed to Epic Records in 2004, The Fray’s first single “Over My Head (Cable Car)” climbed into the top 10 on the Billboard singles chart and has since been certified platinum.
Saving the best for last, The Fray’s performance of “Over My Head (Cable Car)” was one of the sure-fire hits of the night, bringing the entire audience to their feet as frontman Isaac Slade danced about the stage belting the song that made the band famous, finishing it with a powerful chorus that Slade delivered a top a baby grand piano in iconic fashion. I remembering listening to “Over My Head (Cable Car)” back when I was a freshmen in high school, and, even today, the lyrics are still as raw and sensitive as I remember.
What’s perhaps most striking about The Fray is how relatable their lyrics are; it’s obvious that they’re written from first-hand experience, rife with tales of victory, heartbreak, struggle, and pain. It’s these powerful lyrics that allowed the band go throughout the evening barely saying a word—no song introductions, no stories. Just their music.
The title track of their first album, How To Save A Life, might be the best example of this. The song, which was inspired by a band member’s experience as a mentor to a crack-addicted teen chronicles a teenager’s fall into darkness and all the relationships lost along the way. Perhaps not surprisingly, The Fray is one of the most licensed bands of 2006, with their music being featured on Scrubs, Grey’s Anatomy, NCIS, One Tree Hill and Bones.
The band saved “How To Save A Life” until the very end, delivering a sentimental performance that began, true to the recording, with Isaac Spade playing the piano and singing by himself. The rendition made the 7,000+ seat Filene Center feel as intimate as a coffeehouse, with audience members bobbing their heads and readily belting out the lyrics. When doing a brief introduction of the song, Spade poked fun at himself—joking that he “sounds like a smoker even though he doesn’t smoke” and that he “can’t hit the big notes.” While perhaps true, that humility and timbre of his voice translates into a relatable, down-to-earth musical experience that is as enjoyable for its meaningful lyrics as it is for its grit.
Nominated in 2007 and 2010 for Grammy Awards for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal and Best Pop Vocal Album for The Fray, it’s clear that this band is on the way back up on the Billboard Top 40, with their latest studio album Helios (2014). Released in February 2014 by Epic Records, the first single “Love Don’t Die” peaked at number seven on the US Adult Top 40 (Billboard). The Fray ended up with this fan favorite “Love Don’t Die,” before finishing up with an encore that included the soft and haunting “Never Say Never.”
Nylon magazine describes Barcelona as “ultra-romantic,” “gorgeous,” “firmly planted on the cool side of the sonic map, not cheesy.” As a band that just started out in 2012, the synchronicity with which the trio plays is remarkable. Based out of Seattle with a piano-based rock-edge much like The Fray, the group, composed of Brian Fennell (vocals, piano), Branden Crate (keyboard, vocals), and Rhett Stonelake (drums) are reminiscent of Coldplay or even Death Cab for Cutie.
Oh Honey was similarly entertaining, with MTV describing their music as “skillfully blend[ing] thick, acoustic guitars with piano accents and a folk-tinged vibe that’s reminiscent of, say, Mumford & Sons,” but with “aggressively cheerful, shouty pop hooks [that] are straight out of Icona Pop’s playbook.” As a new indie-folk duo from Brooklyn, the due of two singer/songwriters, Mitchy Collins and Danielle Bouchard, create the perfect summertime musical treat—whistles, clapping hands, and whimsical percussion. They’re reminiscent of The Lumineers and Of Monsters and Men.
There’s still time to check out a concert at Wolf Trap before the summer is over, so be sure to check their calendar of events for the latest information!
Running time: Approximately two and a half hours, with two intermissions.
The Fray, Barcelona, and Oh Honey played on Wednesday, July 16, 2014 for one night only at The Filene Center at Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts —1551 Trap Road in Vienna, VA. For future performances and information, check out their calendar of events or buy tickets here.