A few years after Nate Ruess played an afternoon set for the ages on the ACL Fest Honda stage with his band Fun., he returned to the same stage solo. Sorry to say the experience wasn’t nearly as, well, fun.
Ruess has a new album "Grand Romance" loaded with high melodrama and sweeping emotion, and he pulls off that style as well as anyone. He kicked off with "Great Big Storm," a driving track that captures the same kind of broad "all the feels" vibe that Fun does and it was a solid start. Sure, it felt a bit like Ruess was starring in the Broadway musical version of his life, but in a good way.
From there he waffled. While Fun. delivers gutsy, high octane rock, Ruess solo didn’t seem to know where to land his sound. Standing in front of a beach scene backdrop with palm trees and pastel haciendas he veered from credible glam rock to washed out yacht rock that wasted away in Margaritaville.
"We’re just here to get you pumped for everything else you’re gonna see today," he said, before delivering a cover of Prince’s "Let’s Go Crazy" that was depressingly sane. He fared much better with Elton John’s "Rocket Man" a song he could clean up with at beach bar karaoke.
The best received covers were those of his own band. An early rendition of Fun.’s track "Carry On" had the audience engaged and folks sprinted across the field to catch him powering out the set with "We Are Young." At times he almost achieved that level of engagement with his own material. With power chords, festival claps and face contorting passion "Nothing Without Love" was a high point. At the same time it felt two shakes away from the backdrop for an embarrassing wedding proposal gone terribly wrong.