9/20/99: Journal Sentinel 9/20/99
Journal Sentinel

Moxy Fruvous' pop mixes prankishness, sentimentality

By Nick Carter

of the Journal Sentinel staff

Canadian pop has again ventured south.

In the '70s, Americans heard the Top-40 balladeering of Anne Murray and the progressive-rock sounds of Rush.

A few years back a new, humor-laced brand of pop came from eventual stars Barenaked Ladies. A better representation of that approach made its way Sunday night to Shank Hall, where the Toronto-based pop quartet Moxy Fruvous performed.

Though a thousand times less popular than Barenaked Ladies, Moxy Fruvous is similar in that it borrows scads of pop-music poses, styles and imagery and patches them into a pastiche held together by satirical lyrics, intentionally affected vocals and ironic, Letterman-like patter between songs.

The show started off with banjoist Dave Matheson picking out a few notes from "Dueling Banjos" (the "Deliverance" theme) which segued into a few verses of Eric Clapton's "Lay Down Sally," but with improvised lyrics focusing on Milwaukee, Shank Hall and the audience.

"Michigan Militia" continued the band's essentially irreverent mood: Bassist Murray Foster laid down a slow and sinuous bass line nestled between the snare-and-cymbal-only percussion of Jian Ghomeshi; Matheson provided a few funk-embellishing banjo rhythms; singer-guitarist Mike Ford rapped a send-up of a verse through a miniature bullhorn, giving the vocals a sampled and robotized texture.

But when the group put aside its prankishness and returned to its roots, it became clear its usually hidden sentimentality rests in British and American-style guitar pop of the '60s.

"I Will Hold On" showed this unfettered side, with Ghomeshi moving to lead vocals of a slightly nasal, Dylan-like feel, above a pop sound and arrangement reminiscent of the Beatles' "I Should've Known Better."

Then it was back to the parody, with a few verses of Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues," followed by "We're Going to the Moon," which had the members singing the Broadway musical-esque number a capella and moving in unison through a loose and campy choreography.

"Stuck in the '90s" had the band strictly in "topical" and painfully serious mode, with Ghomeshi treating the assembled to a 10-minute lecture on the news-behind-the-news in East Timor. But the song alone made for an adequate commentary, in turns moving and hilarious, and would have been all the more effective without its preceding manifesto.

Just before the end of the regular portion of the show came "Get in the Car," which, beyond the lyrics, sounded like a slight rearrangement of the Beatles' '66 single "Taxman."

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