Australian alterna-pop crooner Ben Lee and the West coasters of Rooney didn’t name their cross-country musical jaunt the “Fun Fun Fun” tour to be ironic. After all, these young dudes are at least partly responsible for bringing feel-good tunes back into the indie fold, for better or worse.
Before Lee ascended the Roxy Theatre stage for his Atlanta appearance, the swelling sound of Frank Sinatra classic “My Way” emanated from the speakers, a signal that this young singer-songwriter takes his duty as a fun-master very seriously – insofar as aesthetics are concerned, at least. Within minutes, the audience discovered Lee delivers the goods even at the cost of his own dignity: Dressed to the nines in a gold suit gaudy enough to make Liberace jealous, Lee hopped to the mic and earnestly moved into a rendition of “Begin,” a lament-filled love song from of his current album, Awake is the New Sleep.
While the gleaming duds matched Lee’s lighthearted stage presence, they didn’t prepare listeners for the barrage of sappy ditties he performed for a good portion of the evening, many of which seemed to reference his former flame, actress Claire Danes. Turns out Lee is stylistically more like Barry Manilow than he is Bob Dylan, even if he does look uncannily like the latter.
With the exception of catchy, OC-friendly favorites like “Cigarettes Will Kill You” and Breathing Tornados track “Nothing Much Happens” (a song Lee claims “should have been a hit”), the Aussie balladeer remained earnestly sentimental throughout. Breaking the schmaltzy monotony were cheeky turns here and there: Toward the end of his 12-song set, Lee’s mellow “Whatever It Is” gave way to a chorus of “We’ll all float on, ok,” from the now ubiquitous Modest Mouse hit, "Float On." A crowd-wide sing along ensued.
Headliner Rooney, on the other hand, was a kinetic ball of post-adolescent energy. Those California kids are the perfect mix of approachable boyishness and teenybopper rock stardom, evidenced by the throngs of screaming girls (and boys) that dominated the front row.
Taking cues from Weezer, Rooney kicked off the night with a rousing nerd-rock number called “Blueside,” meandering into meatier territory with new tracks like the aural ode to Guns N' Roses, “Believe in Me.” Notable interludes included the apologetic “I’m A Terrible Person,” “Tell Me” and “That Girl Has Love,” the latter of which amounting to the “takin’ it down a notch” song of the night.
Rooney’s shining moment came when lead singer Robert Schwartzman – yes, younger brother to movie star, Jason – got interactive. To rouse the subdued audience, Schwartzman belted, “It’s too quiet in here! This is a rock ‘n’ roll show!” When inevitable squeals reverberated, he declared, “That’s more like it!”
Sure, it’s doubtful Rooney or Ben Lee will ever truly change the face of music, but one fact regarding their collective identities is indisputable: Predictably cheesy teen titans though they may be, these guys know how to have a good time. And in the end, isn’t that what rock ‘n’ roll is all about?