Onstage in March at Coda—a red-velvet and gold-chandelier midtown joint that looks like it could’ve hosted an open-mic night in Reality Bites—17-year-old singer-actor Teddy Geiger allowed the guitarist in his four-piece band to take a solo. More remarkably, the usually solo-averse crowd of junior high girls and the Carson Daly look-alikes who prey upon them accepted the distraction, maybe because it was no distraction at all: Geiger embodies ‘tweenpop’s quick maturation from putatively content-free entertainment to serious chops-enabled pursuit. A Conor Oberst for the MySpace set, Geiger strums his acoustic and plinks his piano to show his fans that, notwithstanding their shared producer, he’s no Backstreet Boy. And yet, at its best, Underage Thinking—part of a would-be Geiger geyser alongside his recurring role on January’s immediately canceled TV show flop Love Monkey—isn’t the self-serious buzzkill the genre’s development seems to portend. Lead single “For You I Will (Confidence)” works up a post-adolescent sweat despite its awkward 6/8 swing, Geiger likening a high-stakes meet-cute to doing a cannonball into his parents’ Olympic-size swimming pool. Later, in the tellingly titled “Look Where We Are Now,” he gets in touch with the petulant teenager within, bellowing “I just wanna hang out with my friends,” perhaps in the direction of his nagging management team. Four Denver dudes currently upgrading from AAA radio to Top 40, the Fray skew slightly older than Geiger: I keep failing to detect the difference between How to Save a Life‘s title track and Styx’s “Come Sail Away.” But they do a similarly good job of preventing their blithely melodic folk-pop from turning into the post-Train mush it obviously wants to be. Credit singer Isaac Slade’s memory of Counting Crows’ “A Long December,” still the gold standard for this kind of stuff. In “Over My Head (Cable Car),” he keeps the piano solo short and sweet—just like his audience’s attention span.
The Fray play Webster Hall May 23.