In the past couple months, a German television show has worked its way into my generally television-free life. It’s the sort I would normally take particular care to avoid: A reality show, DSDS, the German equivalent of American Idol. But half of my favorite band is sitting in the jury, and so every week, I tune in to absorb their insights on singing technique and stage presence.
There’s one question which comes up again and again in critique: Whether the contestants’ voices have something called “Wiedererkennungswert.” Essentially, recognizability. A fair number of people can carry a tune reasonably well. Most of these are completely indiscernible from the masses. A smaller number have their own style, a texture or tone which leaves their voice lingering in the corners of your mind. Then there is the exceptionally rare singer whose voice would be recognizable in a crowd of a million. Bill Kaulitz, the singer of Tokio Hotel, has one such voice. Its qualities fascinated me into learning a new language, turned my life in a completely new direction and eventually led me to my current adventurous existence in Berlin, and yes, roped me into watching DSDS.
Nate Ruess of the Grammy Award-winning band “fun.” has another such unmistakable voice. I had suspected this from recorded music and live videos, but it’s hard to really know before hearing someone sing live. Interestingly enough, I actually saw the band open for Paramore back in 2010, but while I thought they were, well, fun, the true extent of Ruess’s vocal abilities escaped me at the time.
Images copyright of Caitlin Hardee, all rights reserved.
Last night in Berlin’s Astra Kulturhaus, I experienced with awe one of the most passionate, powerful vocal feats I have ever witnessed in a life packed with concert-going. This man can SING. How does he project to such massive effect? Does his compact frame hide a pair of lungs twice the normal size? His voice has an absolutely unusual texture—spending plenty of time in the high ranges without ever becoming nasal, bringing these bell-like tones straight out of his chest, sending forth this clear, powerful, sweet-sorrowful-triumphant sound. In combination with the full extent of his range, acrobatic vocal flexibility and exquisite modulatory quality—I hesitate to say “control” because it sounds so utterly natural and effortless—it’s nothing short of breathtaking.
A singer with this degree of ability and Ruess’s level of stupendous emotional involvement and energetic investment in the songs absolutely sweeps up an audience. At times, when the exuberant instrumentation backed away and left Ruess releasing these pure, enunciated notes like wet crystal or birds taking quiet flight, I came close to tears before the beauty of his voice. The atmosphere was so exhilarated yet relaxed—the audience screamed for the band, sang in resounding unison with the band, but nobody was crushing or fighting their way forward; all were simply held together in the mesh of the music.
In a musical landscape overrun with autotuned phonies, it’s almost painfully wonderful to experience a concert like this. This is why I go to shows—to be carried away, ideally, on a wave of shared emotion, stunned and electrified by the intensity of the music and the emotive belief of the people creating it. “Some night,” indeed. Thanks for the fun, Ruess & Co.