They’ve been in Manila for barely a day, and the members of The Fray have already been busy soaking up as much of Pinoy culture as possible. That included greeting eager fans at the airport, appearing in noontime shows, and eating sisig.
Apparently, frontman/pianist Isaac Slade couldn’t get enough of the latter, even after being told what it’s actually made of.
The alt-rock quartet from Denver, Colorado, had been in town recently as part of its Asian tour for their third album, “Scars and Stories.” The band met with members of the press in a candid conference at the Crowne Plaza’s Bar One the day before the concert at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
In a previous phone interview, Slade had told Super how the band had been introduced to the enthusiasm of Pinoy musicphiles during their recent shows in Muscat and Dubai. Now that they’re here, they’re even more amazed by the warm reception.
“We stepped off the airport last night and there were 75 people there trying to take pictures of us and saying hello. I felt like Madonna or something; it was great,” Slade quipped at the press conference amidst laughter, while drummer Ben Wysocki snuck a few shots of the press to post on his Instagram feed.
“We actually didn’t know we had Filipino fans until probably four years ago,” said rhythm guitarist Joe King (who, like all the other foreign artists who have come here recently, is a huge Manny Pacquiao fan). Thanks to Twitter and Facebook, King says the band feels as “close” to their Pinoy fans as they are to their fans back home.
In response to Super’s question, lead guitarist Dave Welsh shared a heartwarming anecdote. “Sometime earlier this year, we were near San Francisco and California. We had a radio show that we were supposed to do, but it got canceled. There was this really persistent girl on Twitter who actually let us know that the gig was canceled even before we knew that it was canceled.
“It was really disappointing, so we thought, uncharacteristically, that we would find time to schedule a little house concert for her. We didn’t know that she was Filipino, so she had, like, 300 people in her house,” he continued, drawing more laughter. “But it was a good prep course for coming to the Philippines, getting to know how family dynamics work. They were incredibly warm, very outgoing, very fun.”
The same could be said about the band members themselves, actually.
Formed in 2002, the band had gained fame through evocative piano-based songs that have figured prominently in medical dramas, like the Grammy-winning “How to Save a Life” in “Grey’s Anatomy” (for obvious reasons). But more than the tales of woe and heartbreak that they’ve spun in their earlier records, the third album possesses what Slade calls “a new confidence and clarity” that they’ve never had before.
Produced by rock bigwig Brendan O’Brien (Pearl Jam, Bruce Springsteen, etc.), “Scars and Stories” is decidedly more aggressive and guitar-driven, as exemplified by the first single “Heartbeat.” “On our first record, we didn’t quite trust ourselves yet,” Slade said. “We loosened up on the second album, but there was still some element of restraint. But on this one, we just stepped up to the plate and swung as hard as we could.”
Now that they’ve gotten a little older and settled down, their music has taken a new direction, and an exciting one at that. It’s most likely what Welsh referred to as “music that could reach the back row”—that is, a tighter, more ambient sound, much like the effect Radiohead’s music gives off. The band will go back to the studio after their tour to work on their next album, which Slade hopes will be finished by December next year.
“For the fourth record, I’d like to combine that whole innocence and naïveté … with the confidence and clarity that we have now,” Slade said. “We’re not doing this for money or fame or tickets, but because we have something to say and we love doing it.”
Originally scheduled for June, The Fray’s concert was moved to Nov. 10 due to unforeseen circumstances. Postponed dates aside, the band was apparently happy to play in such a historical venue—check out their “Thrilla in Manila” tweet— and even happier about witnessing the Filipino music scene firsthand. Slade even popped out from backstage to watch local front act Moonstar 88 warm up the crowd.
“Usually, in America, they cheer at the beginning and at the end of the song. In the Philippines, they cheer every 30 seconds. It makes us feel good, so thank you,” Slade had observed after their performance in local noontime show “Eat Bulaga” the day before the concert. It turns out that they’ve gotten just a taste of things to come; when they took the stage at the Big Dome, the sizable crowd instantly erupted into screams that morphed into sing-along moments during the more popular songs.
The concert set list was like one giant life soundtrack, full of familiar tunes from our fave TV shows as well as songs that evoked bittersweet feelings and memories in each person present. The band played a total of 18 tracks, including surprise covers of The Temptations’ “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” and Cheap Trick’s “Surrender.” The show opened with the upbeat “All At Once” from the debut album, followed by the heartrending carrier single “You Found Me” from their eponymous second record.
King gained more than his fair share of fans after flaunting his vocal chops in the beautiful ballad “Ungodly Hour” from the second album; interestingly, it had just been featured in a recent episode of “The Vampire Diaries” Season 4. Other soundtrack faves performed included another TVD tearjerker, “Never Say Never,” which is also on the “Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen OST,” and “Look After You,” which was featured in, well, almost every TV drama aired in the last five years or so.
The band also offered their heartfelt sympathy to those affected by the monsoon last August, in the form of the song “Happiness.” “We heard about the floods and we’re so sorry… The song is about being sad and being lonely and being lost but still smiling—not in a false way, but in a very, very deep way,” Slade said.
The sentimental moment grew even more meaningful when Slade jumped off the stage to literally get up close and personal with the crowd in the patron area.
In true “save the best for last” fashion, the band performed their Grammy-winning debut hits “How to Save a Life” and “Over My Head (Cable Car)” back-to-back, followed by “Heartbeat” and the Cheap Trick cover. Toward the end of the show, the vocalist surprised everyone once more by sprinting all the way to the back of the Coliseum and hopping as far up as the Upper A bleachers. For the two-song encore, Slade went solo for the lullaby-like piano ballad “Be Still,” then the rest of the band joined him for one of their older songs, “Trust Me,” to cap off an amazing show.
“The Fray Live in Manila 2012” is presented by That’s Ntertainment Productions.