Fall flat 2004

If attendance, rather than intensity, is the measure of a great concert, then Fall Fest 2004 was an unqualified success. Despite being held two weeks earlier in the semester than in the past, this year’s Fall Fest broke the event’s attendance record with nearly 4,500 people on hand.

Unfortunately, the music, which was meant to be the highlight of the event, turned out to be the most lifeless, boring aspect of the day. The three-band lineup of Last Week, Matt Nathanson and headliner the Pat McGee Band never generated any passion or enthusiasm from the crowd. Over the course of the five-hour concert, the music served as background music for fans, who appeared more interested in chatting with peers than listening to music coming from the stage.

The first act of the afternoon was Last Week, a band that strived for a pop-punk, MTV-friendly sound. As the crowd began to file into the quad, the young, fresh-faced band played to some 20 fans who mostly stood and stared with their hands in their pockets as the crowd mingled about.

Next up was singer-songwriter Matt Nathanson, who clearly aspires to be the next college-friendly, pop rock icon in the vein of such acts as John Mayer, Guster and Maroon 5. Armed with his backup band and his 12-string guitar, Nathanson treated the crowd to an hour of mostly folksy, Dave Matthews-inspired songs, none of which grabbed any fans’ attention, much less their approval. So thirsty was the crowd for entertainment that it stirred a bit when Nathanson gave them a rather sloppy cover of the Bee Gees’ fan favorite, “Stayin’ Alive,” and a fairly cheesy cover of James’ hit song, “Laid.” Perhaps the brief spark came from the fans’ recognition that Nathanson’s cover of the song was featured in the American Wedding Soundtrack. By contrast, Nathanson’s songs – marked by very personal, powerful lyrics – show signs of promise for the future. Even there, however, Nathanson needs to establish a more charismatic stage presence if he ever wants to win an audience’s adoration.

Headliner, the Pat McGee band, was the only relatively impressive act of the night, doing its best to create energy in the almost lifeless crowd, with an upbeat array of southern-tinged, college-friendly rock. The band endured past 10 p.m. with a fan invite on stage, profuse thank yous extended to the crowd for lasting to the concert’s end, and a passionate encore piece performed without a mic.

All in all, the show was not the focal point of the event, nor did it deserve to be. When bands play live, they both create and feed off the energy from the crowd, and this year’s Fall Fest left both fans and bands starving for energy from which to feed.

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