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July 1 issue (#147)

Live Noise

Jon Steltenpohl

Moxy Fruvous is one of those bands whose fans will tell you that the only way to really experience them is to see them live. These former buskers (street musicians) from Toronto have built a cult of fans throughout Canada and the United States based on nonexistent stateside airplay and an endless series of live shows. Their studio albums have been decent examples of their tight four part harmony and unique blend of both smart-ass humor and solemn emotions.

And while their studio albums hold their own, Moxy Fruvous' legacy is drawing in people on a street through sheer force of musical energy. Somehow, they've managed to carry that directly into show after show in front of larger and larger audiences. Live Noise is the result of their fans' prodding. If "live" is the only way to see a band, then logic dictates that "live" is the proper way to record an album. This album, recorded at various New England dates during the fall of 1997, is without a doubt a live album. There is banter and fan participation oozing at every turn. Often, the sound of the crowd singing and shouting is louder than the band. Fortunately, Moxy Fruvous fans are generally also folk music fans, and they've learned to only sing loud on the choruses.

Live Noise carries out its duty of capturing the band live fairly well. The choice of songs is nearly perfect. The best songs from all points of their career are represented from "King of Spain" to "Michigan Militia". The biggest omission is probably their rap version of Dr. Seuss' "Green Eggs and Ham_" but that is only due to copyright issues. In addition to their favorites, a cover of Talking Heads "Psycho Killer" is thrown in for good measure, and a second version "King of Spain" is added on. Dubbed the "Cranky Monarch Version", this "King" sounds a bit like David Bowie, Bono, and Bruce Springsteen tossed in a blender and forced to sing Moxy Fruvous covers on puree.

The banter between songs is generally a good thing. One bit called "Kasparov vs. Deep Blue" is a bit boring, but it's a little forgivable given the fact that it was news at the time and they were playing at M.I.T.. Fortunately, the rest is much better. "Nature Sounds" is funny, and the discussion on "Naked Puppets" ends with them speculating about how Oscar the Grouch would be much more realistic if the first word out of his mouth each day was "Motherfucker". "The Lowest Highest Point (Improv)" starts out as a trivia question, but ends up as an off the cuff rap with all four guys trading beats and shout outs while keeping up a discussion with the crowd. Of any track on the album, this one shows what a Moxy Fruvous show is all about.

The only fault of the album is tuning. A fourth of the songs have points where the 4 part harmony turns a little sour. On "B. J. Don't Cry" and "Boo Time", there are times where it's slightly cringe inducing. Likewise, "Horseshoes" and "I've Gotta Get a Message to You" are nearly perfect except for a few lapses. In each of these songs, they guys find their pitch back before the end of the song, but it seems like the incessant touring might be take its toll a bit. As is common with many live and folk artists, the album is proudly not overdubbed. Regardless, for a live album recorded over multiple dates, you'd think these songs would have been replaced with more in tune versions.

Regardless of the minor problems with the tuning now and then, the entire album is engaging and exciting. Live Noise is exactly what a Moxy Fruvous fan would want and expect out of a live album. They've picked out a bunch of favorites that everyone loves, and crammed 70 minutes of them into a single CD. Live Noise can't replace a real Moxy Fruvous show, but, if you can't wait until they come back to town, it's the next best thing to being there.

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