All the blinds are drawn on a brand-new tour bus that reads “The Format” on the window. Inside, the stagnant air smells heavy with the tinge of smoke (of several varieties), stale food, and body odor.
Two small plastic guitars sit in the back room of the bus. “We’re all about Guitar Hero,” says lead singer/ songwriter Nate Ruess. “Everyone’s always back here playing.” One would think they’d get enough of that on stage.
Indeed, The Format members are seasoned, professional musicians. But first and foremost, they are a group of friends. All six have worked together for years to get where they are now, and they have truly earned everything they have.
However, success has proven to be somewhat of a double-edged sword for the group. Coming off of a triumphant headlining summer tour, grinding it as one of the three openers for the All-American Rejects is a bittersweet symphony.
“This summer, it felt like all of our hard work was paying off,” Ruess said. “We’re just trying to get adjusted to this supporting mode. it’s been over two years since we’ve done something like that.”
The shift in tour-type can literally be seen in the faces of the audience. Even though the show was at George Mason University, the concertgoers were a bit below college-aged.
Yet, the few true fans in the audience could not be more into it. Maggie Osburn, 16, had seen the act three times this year alone. “It was toned down a bit, but they didn’t really change anything,” Osburn said after the band’s set. “They played like they owned the show… like everyone came to see them, which is part of what makes them such good performers.”
The band themselves are fully aware of their new crowd. “Playing for new people is weird,” said the 24-year-old Ruess. “It can be hard looking out into the audience and not knowing exactly who you’re playing for.”
But when the lights dimmed and the crowd began to roar, The Format made it work. The group took the stage at around 7:30 p.m., after a high-octane set by the Gym Class Heroes. It seemed like an uphill battle, as the teenagers pressed up against the barricade seemed truly disinterested, at least initially. However, by the fifth song “The Compromise,” off their newest album “Dog Problems,” they had won over the crowd.
The petite lead singer with an improbably high voice was a giant on stage. Nate marched about like a mix between Mick Jagger and Iggy Pop, while his musical counterpart and songwriting partner Sam Means was confined behind a piano and acoustic guitars. But the musical connection between the two was undeniable, as they worked together to nail a truly triumphant performance.
They set the stage well for The Starting Line and the All- American Rejects, but to their credit, they really made the night their own. For the half-hour that they were on stage, it was about no one but them and their music, which is truly tough to do as one of three openers.
Ruess himself summed it up best. “It’s more just about us wanting to stick to our guns,” he said. “There’s something to be said for doing your own thing and keeping your own pace.” And as long as they keep up with this pace, fans will be sure to follow.