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New York indie rock band 'Fun.' was, well, fun

The screaming started when Fun. hit the stage and never quit. Who'd have thought there were this many teenage girls on a Thursday night in Southern Oregon? Who'd have thought a band nobody had heard of in January would come on like conquering heroes in August?

Fun. (the dot is part of the name) frontman Nate Ruess told an adoring (and one of the youngest ever) Britt crowd that band members had never heard of Jacksonville, Oregon.

"A while ago you probably never heard of us either," he added.

That was after the anthemic "Why Am I the One" (sample lyric: "my lives become as vapid as a night out in Los Angeles and I just want to stay in bed") and before "The Gambler," a change-of-pace love ballad with just Andrew Dost's piano backing Ruess.

Fun. had its start in 2008 when Ruess teamed up two fellow indie rockers, guitarist Jack Antonoff and multi-instrumentalist Dost. The band's first album, the very indie "Aim and Ignite," didn't go anywhere, but their second, "Some Nights" on the Fueled by Ramen label, was produced by Jeff Bhasker, who produces Kanye West and Beyonce.

Ruess's highly theatrical pop-rock and Ghasker's hip-hop grooves came together, the stars aligned, and the single "We Are Young" became a smash after it was used on a Chevrolet commercial on the Super Bowl broadcast in February. In March it hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, the first song by an indie group to debut at that position since Nickelback did it a decade ago.

That led to a lot of touring, including a Thursday night show at Britt. Playing live, the band sounded a bit like an updated Electric Light Orchestra being fronted by a frenetic Freddie Mercury. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

In fact the band's live sound, without all the album's overwrought layering, is surprisingly clean, sharp and energetic. But still quirky and very, very theatrical, a bit like the guys are fronting Eminem, an '80s hair band and the Boston Pops on a Broadway stage.

"Carry On," which kicked off the show, began as a showy power ballad built around a hooky guitar riff, Ruess prowling around the stage with suspenders over a short-sleeve shirt and what used to be called high-water pants. The audience was up and singing at the first note.

"One Foot" showed off Ruess's penchant for penning towering anthems with angsty lyrics. This sometimes requires him to jump around the stage pumping his fist while singing lyrics such as "I'll put one foot in front of the other one/ I don't need a new love, or a new life/ just a better place to die."

And it's not as if the lyrics go over his fans' heads. The aisles were filled with people singing along word for word.

The quirky, syncopated "At Least I'm Not As Bad As I Used to Be" even featured an audience sing-along. The audience's part was "Oh oh oh whoa oh." It sounded better than it writes.

"All Alright" was another instance of that musical/lyrical discontinuity thing. A propulsive rocker, it found Ruess bemoaning his outcast state: "yeah it's all right/ I guess it's all alright/ I've got nothing left inside of my chest/ but it's all alright."

"All Alone" was yet another example, with the hip hop and pop influences perfectly melded and Ruess's upbeat vocals driving it merrily along. Did he really just sing, "nobody's gonna fix me when I'm broke"?

Fun. is pop, but it's quirky pop. Ruess has a big voice and sings like a cross between a boy band frontman and a Broadway star on opening night, with a dose of Gen Y irony in that weird disconnect. The five-piece band performed with razor clarity and lots of passion.

When deadline called a reviewer, the band still hadn't done "We Are Young." Which was OK, because let's face it, the song sounds like it was written to sell cars. It's not only a commercial song, ("Toni-i-i-ght,/ we are yo-o-oung/ so let's set the world on fire/ we can burn brighter/ than the sun"), it's annoying.

Heck, there are better songs on the album, including the title cut, which begins as a folkish, choral ditty with an infectious gospel feel and soon has Ruess free-associating about insomnia, the search for identity, disillusionment, dreams, family and death.

So is "Some Nights" Ruess's attempt to go commercial, i.e., FM-friendly? Nope. It's just too quirky, at times downright weird. After a while a certain sameness creeps in, but you don't expect a dozen killer tunes on an album. Pop or not, Fun. is fun. You have to see their live show to get it.

Alt-rock band Fun. played Thursday, Aug. 23, at the Britt Pavilion in Jacksonville. - Photo courtesy of Britt Festivals