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The Format: sing-along takes acoustic appearances to new level

Jess Shaffer | Monday, December 3, 2007

The Format took to Legends’ stage Saturday, promising to be the Notre Dame audience’s “campfire” for the night. Well it was the best sing-a-long that I’ve been to in a long while. Everything about The Format’s performance was honest, uncomplicated, and confident. A surprisingly knock out blend. Only The Format’s essential figureheads, the cool duo of Sam Means and Nate Ruess, made the trek out to Notre Dame. Leaving the rest of their band back home in Arizona, the pair opted for a combination of unadulterated vocals and graceful instrumental accompaniment.

In this age of music, who knew the wonders that just a mic, keyboard and amped acoustic guitar could do. Apparently these tried and true staples can still make music magic when in the right hands. The poignant affect of this simplicity was only accentuated by the close proximity of the audience to the band. While at times you had to question the logic of putting The Format mere inches away from their viewers, the close dynamic of the performance made for an appealing and personal music going experience. Despite fan’s sometimes precarious excitement, the group effortlessly performed essentially in its audience. Commendable bravery, considering that their performance relied on raw vocals. Ruess, the lead vocalist, even warned the closest audience members to keep their crooning at a minimum as to not throw off his pitch. For those not in the first row, the tantalizing opportunity to sing along gave fans a chance to contribute as a crowd of backup singers. Fans were so close, not only could they easily hear the group, but in turn could easily be heard by the group, making an endless amount of openings for eager viewers.

During breaks, fans took advantage of this proximity to shout out cries of support and interest. Ruess replied to everything from comments about the purple knit cap he donned to the audience’s shouted requests. One particular fan cried out that he had written his Notre Dame admissions essay on The Format’s pensive song, “Snails.” The band got a kick out of this, joking that if “my s***y lyrics got you in here then maybe I could get in too.” Later the duo urged prospective med students to use their new song, “Swans,” in their future admission essays. They reasoned that “it’s a metaphor too,” and apparently that works. Though there was plenty of energized fan activity to go around, Ruess’ on point vocals demanded attention.

Exceeding expectations, his voice was unfathomably studio quality. With seemingly effortless ease, Ruess’ performance lived up to the standards that can be found on any one of their albums. Furthermore, it demonstrated an experienced confidence that could achieve virtual perfection even in close quarters. These vocals coupled with Means’ easy accompaniment created a plain, down to earth presentation. This band clearly understands the difference between simple and simplistic, pairing their obvious talent with a quirky sense of humor. This eccentric talent was often brought to life by Ruess’ comfortable presence, which had a hint of Mick Jagger’s mannerisms. In songs typically characterized by drum or guitar solos, Ruess filled in with his own vocal versions of the instrumental. Cheers to not taking oneself too seriously. He showed real commitment to this cause when he accompanied these solos with respective air guitar or air drumming.

The Format took care to cover the full ground of their discography. Their roughly hour-long set included favorites from “Snails,” “Interventions and Lullabies,” and the most recent “Dog Problems.” They also previewed a couple of new songs. Their diverse set ended with a two-song encore, which the group claimed to be unanticipated. Overall, The Format’s performance seemed to satisfy the desire for old favorites and curiosity about new material. After this appearance the band has surely won a few more fans and intrigued old fans with fresh material.

Though there was expressed interest in the group’s return to South Bend, The Format predicted that the closest they would get to our campus in future would be Chicago. After this concert, the South Shore Train ride would be worth the trip.