Pittsburgh Tribune Review Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Canadian combo promises hot 'Burgh gig

By Robb Frederick

Time to kiss and make up, Mike Ford says. His band Moxy Fruvous skipped the city when it toured behind last year's "Live Noise," a smart, genre-hopping set that caught the freewheeling feel of a Fruvous show: high-harmony ballads backed with banjo, accordion and megaphone, sandwiched by ragas, a cappellas and spontaneous stand-up - including a call to arms in Philadelphia (where part of the disc was recorded) to march on our fair 'Burgh.

A joke, Ford says. Harmless.

But he'll make it up to us, he says. Tonight's show at Graffiti in Oakland will be full of new tunes. The band has 20 songs to road-test; they'll take the best-received back into the studio next month.

"We want to go in with a little of that live fire," Ford says on the phone from Toronto where the band is between rehearsals.

Unfamiliar songs send some crowds running for refills. But Fruheads (yes, that's what they call themselves) are more forgiving. They'll have the lyrics on the Internet by morning.

"We really are fortunate with this Fruhead phenomenon," Ford says. "They know all the stuff, but they want to hear the most obscure songs. And they really listen. It's almost like they're thrilled to be a jury."

Ford says the new material plays straighter than what appeared on "You Will Go to the Moon," the band's last studio effort. "It's less instrumentally eclectic," he says. "No drum loops or Middle Eastern things."

He and his band mates - Murray Foster, Jian Ghomeshi and David Matheson - once used odd instruments to mask pedestrian playing. They still trade instruments on stage, and they still lean hard on their four-part harmonies. But the rest is coming, Ford says.

"The more we play, the more we become a band of instrumentalists to be proud of," he says. "But I wouldn't necessarily have invited many friends to see us for those early shows."

He didn't have to. Fruvous (the name is nonsense) started under the marquee of Toronto's Bloor St. Cinema. The band played for change, singing a cappella so they wouldn't have to carry instruments. They drew big crowds by rapping "Green Eggs and Ham."

That humor is still there, in songs like "King of Spain" (deposed leader now drives a Zamboni) and "Michigan Militia" (I hope you like the double barrel / I think it goes with your apparel) and in the banter between them. Eight of the 23 cuts on "Live Noise" are improvised; the best imagines Oscar the Grouch riffing profane on his quality of life.

"We'd get really bored if we didn't do that," Ford says. "I mean, there's so much night after night after night in this business."

And it did work for Barenaked Ladies, that other witty, Canadian pop combo.

But that doesn't mean Fruvous will follow them up the charts. "You can't second-guess the industry," Ford says. "We know those guys, we know the full side of them, and we're really happy for them. They're amazing musicians. But what happened to them is such a huge thing. It's just too way beyond us even to think about it."

Besides, the band did have a shot of success in 1993, when the first Fruvous disc, "Bargainville," went platinum and won the band a Juno nomination.

Things got a little strange after that.

"The people coming out to the shows then knew one or two songs and kind of sat on their haunches until they came up," Ford says. "We had that success briefly, and honestly, we were glad to see it go

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