A double-platinum debut album and passel of hit singles has made playing clubs a thing of the past for the Fray -- if the Denver quartet should so choose. But as it prepares for the Feb. 3 release of its self-titled sophomore outing, the group is, briefly, downscaling without losing any musical punch.
There's an agenda, of course. When guitarist Joe King asked the sold-out Detroit crowd if "it's OK to play new stuff, right?," he wasn't kidding; the Fray played all 10 tracks from the new album during its 16-song, nearly 90-minute set, taking advantage of the intimate venue packed with diehards who scooped up tickets in minutes and braved heavy snows and bad roads to get to the show.
The Fray didn't ease into the fresh material, either. Following a well-received opening set by Kansas City's Vedera, the quartet and its two touring musicians -- playing on a stage rimmed by household lamps, chandeliers and porch lights -- opened with the new songs "Absolute" and "Syndicate," both displaying the same earnest and smoothly crafted pop flavor as 2005's "How To Save a Life."
"Where the Story Ends" and "Enough For Now" followed suit, but the performance also yielded surprises, including the delicate, King-sung "Ungodly Hour" and the encores "We Build Then We Break" and "Happiness." The latter two were ebb-and-flow opuses in the Radiohead or Coldplay mold that exhibit a more pronounced dynamic swing and aggressive edge than the Fray's previous work.
The group took some license with its earlier work as well. Though The Fray was fairly faithful to "Over My Head (Cable Car)," "All At Once and "She Is," frontman Isaac Slade accented the end of "Look After You" with a bit of Joe Cocker's "You Are So Beautiful," while "How To Save a Life" was given a stripped-down, acoustic treatment that would have been lost in a bigger venue.
Slade also performed "Vienna" as a solo piece. It was a challenging kind of show for the fans, but the Fray faithful embraced the evening as a rare treat. Even if they didn't laugh at Slade's jokes, they sang along heartily to the hits and even demonstrated enough familiarity with the new material to indicate there had been at least a bit of online leakage already.
The Fray, clearly planning for another big hit, will be playing larger venues when it tours this summer. But as Slade told the crowd, "the big places are great, but we really like THIS." And he was hardly alone in that opinion.