Pop-music quiz time. Ryan Tedder is:
A) Adam Levine without a TV show or Jagger-like moves.
B) A frontman who, like will.i.am and Bruno Mars, produces and writes hits for other pop stars.
C) Rob Thomas without a distinctive voice or a Santana smash hit.
D) An anonymous singer in a band whose songs are more recognizable than the name of the group.
E) All of the above.
Of course, he is all of the above. What he isn’t is a rock star.
He certainly didn’t seem like one Tuesday night in front of 10,000 fans at Target Center. He was earnest, energetic and ingratiating (he said Minneapolis-St. Paul is a beautiful place even though the thermometer had hit 17 below on an earlier visit; he’s from Colorado, people). But he seemed like a busker gone wild in his inside-out black T-shirt, black jeans and a porkpie hat that he might have found at a Tom Waits’ garage sale.
After writing and producing blockbuster hits for Beyoncé, Adele, Jordin Sparks and others, he sounds like he’s swallowed too many Coldplay pills and can’t muster any vocal power. He’s got a radio voice (that sounds too much like Coldplay’s Chris Martin), not an arena voice.
Well, he did suddenly summon a rock ’n’ roll soulfulness Tuesday on the booming stomp “Love Runs Out.” But mostly he was a bombastic balladeer with pumped-up, echoy vocals on the hits “If I Lose Myself” and “Counting Stars,” both of which were amped up with Mumford & Sons-like primal beats.
Tedder, 34, was effective as an intimate crooner, notably on “Come Home” and a tastefully toned down piano-and-cello reading of OneRepublic’s 2007 breakthrough “Apologize,” which he mashed up with a snippet of Magic’s “Rude.” But he sounded like an undisciplined talent-show contestant on a misguided interpretation of Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World,” a song, Tedder says, he wishes he’d written — along with “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “Happy Birthday.”
While that may have been Tedder’s most preposterous pronouncement of the night, he also simultaneously manifested his senses of humor and seriousness when he introduced his own “I Lived” by saying he wants the tune played at his funeral or his graduation from Harvard — “whatever comes first.”
Even if his voice can’t fill an arena, Tedder is certainly not immune from arena schtick. He used a hand-held mirror to reflect the crowd and a hand-held video camera to project a selfie as he watched it on a giant video screen behind him. The Colorado quintet also utilized the requisite fog blowers and confetti cannons.
With only three albums to its credit, OneRepublic still managed to play for a generous 1 hour and 40 minutes — with only one cover. Some fans might have liked to hear Tedder’s versions of “Halo,” “Rumour Has It” and “Battlefield,” to name a few of his outside projects, but this wasn’t a Ryan Tedder show.
Danny O’Donoghue of opening act the Script had a better sense of how to rock an arena. Granted, the Dublin trio’s radio-friendly sound is similar to OneRepublic’s with a little hip-hop cadence to the vocals, but charismatic frontman O’Donoghue jumped into the crowd during the first song and spent two other numbers amongst the joyous fans, including a victory lap on the closing “Hall of Fame.” That was a rock-star turn, but not a hall of fame performance.