Jacques Offenbach’s overture to “Orpheus in the Underworld” — more widely known as the music for the “can-can” — isn’t exactly something you’d expect to hear at a show where the headlining act is a Scottish rock band, but it’s what played when the Fratellis emerged onto the Fillmore stage on Monday.
And, precisely because it was a Fratellis show, this was entirely expected.
The Fratellis have made a habit of playing Offenbach’s piece when it’s about to kick off its setlist for the night, a kooky creative choice that mirrors the band’s refusal to maintain a consistent aesthetic. This defiance is the reason that mainstream audiences probably know, at most, two songs by the Fratellis — “Whistle For The Choir” and “Chelsea Dagger” — and are reluctant to delve into the rest of the band’s discography.
Onstage, the Fratellis share this reluctance. “Henrietta,” off the band’s 2006 debut album Costello Music, was the first song the band played — a predictable decision that set the trend for the rest of the night. Of the 20 songs played, only six were off the band’s newest album In Your Own Sweet Time.
Yet if anyone had a problem with this, it didn’t show. The audience jumped and down wildly in time with frontman Jon Fratelli’s catchy guitar riffs, ensuring that the floor vibrated for the entirety of the performance.
When tracks from the band’s 2018 album were played, they were padded by older songs, a format too perfect to be accidental. New songs “Starcrossed Losers” and “I’ve Been Blind” were followed by “Flathead” and “Everybody Knows You Cried Last Night” from Costello Music. Four songs from the band’s 2015 album Eyes Wide, Tongue Tied were played, but nearly half the setlist was taken from its debut.
Not every song was met with the same enthusiasm, but each was delivered with the same passion. The Fratellis have been at this for 13 years now, after all. Its experience shows itself in a smooth performance, one exemplary of modern rock outfits. The Fratellis don’t mess around too much with crowd engagement, but its music alone is enough to be impactful.
So why did the band stay within safe territory? Probably because most of its fans are still clinging to the first half of its career. The three Fratellis — who have all changed their last names to “Fratelli,” and are not actually related — have accrued a loyal following since they joined forces in 2005. Though their fanbase goes wild for their live shows, they seem to prefer that the shows consist of the familiar music that made them fans in the first place.
This showed itself the most in the audience’s reaction to the last two songs of the night, which made up the encore setlist. Jon Fratelli apologized for cutting the night short by two songs, explaining that he was losing his voice, and then promptly jumped into one of the band’s new songs, “I Am That.” While the audience did sway to the poignant, cinematic-sounding song, only a handful sang along.
This silence changed immediately when the band moved onto its final song, “Chelsea Dagger.” Suddenly the entire room launched into the lyrics, with many fans shouting each word at the top of their lungs.
Yet the Fratellis still seem to be gauging whether or not fans will stay loyal to its newer pursuits.
Age has given the Fratellis a new edge, and it incredibly augments the band’s new music. But it likely wasn’t a coincidence that of the band’s new music, two tracks chosen — “Sugartown” and “Stand up Tragedy” — call back to the fun, poppish beats of the band’s pre-hiatus albums. While other tracks from the new album would have given audiences a taste of the Fratellis’ evolved and more serious sound, the band chose to play it safe.
In their own sweet time, fans of the Fratellis might learn how to love the band’s new pursuits as much as they obsess over their old ones. Monday night at the Fillmore wasn’t the time for that, but a band like the Fratellis is just irresistible onstage. Whether the setlist was strategic or overly nostalgic, all that matters is that it was a night the fans enjoyed.