Unless you’re Peter fucking Frampton, you’re unlikely to win many new fans with a live album. Even the dinosaur rocker himself had already built a steady worldwide fan base as a session player, member of Humble Pie and solo artist (his later turn as Billy Shears in the movie adaptation of Sgt. Pepper’s notwithstanding).
Yet most Americans are discovering Irish phenoms the Frames through their current live release, Set List. The band’s Anti debut captures an energetic still image of a band equal parts U2 four-chord bombast (opener “Revelate”) and quirky Barenaked Ladies pop (“Lay Me Down”) shot through a filter of feedback-laden indie rock (the band’s studio recordings have been produced by Steve Albini, among others). Eight-minute “Fitzcarraldo” even evokes Before These Crowded Streets-era Dave Matthews Band, complete with throaty emotion in the louder parts and proggy fiddle solo.
In short, why aren’t these rootsy Irish heroes the next big thing state-side? Judging by the fervent crowd sing-alongs masterfully mixed in this recording, the Frames even put on a kickass live show.
One clue may be the songwriting. Though new track “The Blood” oozes with melancholy and “Star Star” offers the disc’s best effort at tasty pop singledom, the songs rarely leap out on their own merit. This is pretty standard turn-of-the-century modern rock, leavened with indie-rock noise as a nod to the hipsters.
The passion underpinning each performance is sure to cinch this disc for longtime fans, as will the clever covers interpolated within the Frames’ own songs—“Pure Imagination” from the Willy Wonka soundtrack? Why didn’t I think of that? These covers also reveal the band’s shortcomings; the chords of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” may be no more unique than the Frames’ compositions, but lead singer Glen Hansard stumbles through Marley’s sacramental lyrics, even botching a key poetic device by singing the wrong words. (Hansard says “Your Face” was written about listening to Marley’s music, but clearly he needs to spend more time with his record collection—or any online lyrics database).
Such cavils aside, Set List depicts a band as good as anything else on “alternative” radio bringing its fans into audible ecstasy, if the “ooh” backing vocals on “The Blood” are any measure of audience joy. College students looking to pick up the kid in the dorm who always discovers the next MTV darling three months in advance might find Set List a suitably innocuous makeout record.
The band’s considerable fire in concert is anything but unforgettable when set to disc, but their blend of indie and multi-platinum influences should propel any subsequent studio effort into the buzz bin alongside stronger, similarly accessible acts like Massachusetts indie-popsters Guster or fellow Irishman Damien Rice.
// Notes from the Road
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