Freedom Fry shows promise, overseasons its sound at Rickshaw Stop

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Michelle Shiers Photography/Courtesy

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The horns of the mariachi band barely poked over the rows of standing people, as the  trumpeting musicians struggled to make themselves heard against the pop music and booming backing track.

Los Angeles-based folk-pop duo Freedom Fry is the musical project of Marie Seyrat and Bruce Driscoll, who have been writing and recording singles and EPs for seven years under the Freedom Fry name. Seyrat and Driscoll’s music draws heavily on the past. The two mostly strummed their way through the set on acoustic instruments. They seek to recall breezy pop melodies and songs written with old-school sensibilities that hold an air of timelessness — giving their debut album, Classic, its name.

Freedom Fry visited Rickshaw Stop on Friday as part of the tour supporting this album, opening for main act TT. Freedom Fry warmed up the crowd and played a slew of energetic numbers ranging from folk to rock to pop.

The band played a tight, concise set that exhibited its arrangements across instruments and singing styles. It produced modern, folk-tinged pop music that aimed to highlight a melodic sound that evokes the soft rock and folk rock of the 1950s through 1970s.

The husband and wife who helm Freedom Fry are clearly comfortable with their roles in the band. Driscoll provides fast-strummed guitar melodies, tearing his way through the songs with frantic energy on simple but often solid arrangements. Each member alternates taking lead vocal roles, creating a varied mood. Seyrat brings airy yet rasping lyrical puffs to the songs. During the performance, she got into it, swaying to the music in the center of the stage and accompanying on tambourine. Driscoll’s vocals leaped earnestly through their syllables. He added a dynamic lower end to the frequent harmonies.

Many of the songs featured added flourishes — a recorded whistle here, a backing track there — that always overpowered the songs. Seyrat and Driscoll’s bandmate brought flavor to some songs with his guitar, banjo or ukulele. Other times, he simply felt unnecessary. Either way, he struggled to make a presence onstage. Sure, he wasn’t a shareholder in the marriage that defines the image of the band, but his playing showed focus and technical prowess.

The instrumentals served as a vehicle for the harmonizing and intertwining vocals of Driscoll and Seyrat, which did prove interesting at times. Certain moments showcased their care and investment in the music.

But so much of it felt like Prius ad music. Maybe it didn’t help that the chief claims among Freedom Fry’s marketing are its music’s numerous appearances as licensed songs in movies, film and TV. Within the two’s voices are the seeds of possibilities of moving, emotive folk ballads or rousing pop-folk numbers. But they often try to tackle both and produce ambivalent tunes, or their efforts to write breezy melodies smack of corporate advertising.

Freedom Fry cites vintage bands, the sounds of the ‘50s and even Motown records as its inspirations. It comes from a school of songwriting shared with the Lumineers, Of Monsters and Men and Ben Howard. And while the band shows an interest in moving in a bold stylistic direction, it suffers from trying to throw every instrument and production trick into its music.

The band’s strength lies in the careful control of one or two elements, but the band members inflate each of their songs to cinematic standards, adding ukelele, banjo, keys, strings, touches of percussion. The more compelling areas of their music are the matched harmonies, the carefully considered guitar lines and the interplay of the lead vocalists.

Freedom Fry shows the beginnings of successful songs, but its talent in songwriting and playing gets buried in production details, twinkly ukulele lines and unnecessary flourishes. The band shines most when it brings a simple interplay of two musicians with an incredible amount of chemistry to the forefront. Even in the show, the backing track muddled the band’s melodic, intimate sound. But with fewer additions, these songs could be rousing soft rock numbers or potent guitar ballads.

Contact Patrick Tehaney at ptehan[email protected]. Tweet him at @patricktehaney.