12/7/99: Toronto Sun Toronto Sun
Entertainment Section

Fans have Moxy

Fruvous have gained a Deadhead-like following in U.S.

by Jim Slotek

For "Fruheads," it was a contentious issue when Moxy Fruvous recently declared a moratorium on taping concerts.

To appreciate how contentious, you have to understand that -- especially in the U.S. -- this band, which Torontonians knew as a quarter of wiseacre street-busking popsters, has become the closest thing Canada has produced to a Grateful Dead or Phish. They operate just under the pop culture radar, yet people follow them around from city to city, trade travel tips on the Internet and create private bootlegs for trade.

"We'll go somewhere we've never been, like Portland, Oregon, without media exposure or MTV or whatever, and sell out a theatre with 500 kids," says Moxy Fruvous lead singer Jian Ghomeshi, over the phone from a truckstop outside Hartford. "And we'll ask, 'How do you know about us?' And it turns out somebody traded a tape, and there was the newsgroup and Web site and they saw us on Conan (O'Brien)."

The band, which plays Trinity-St.Paul's tomorrow with singer-songwriter Dar Williams, has been filling 1,500-seat halls recently in places like Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

"This is totally where we get to be rock stars," Ghomeshi says. "It's amazing to us, but we know how we got here.

"It's weird, especially for Canadians who haven't followed us. We hear, 'How'd you guys end up on Conan?' I wish I could tell you it just happened, but it's the result of hard work. The fans aren't here to hear one song. They buy the band as a whole."

And they follow them stylistically. Judging by their latest album, the thoughtful, layered pop album Thornhill (produced by erstwhile R.E.M. producer Don Dixon), the Fruvous that fans are getting these days is a subtler combo than the funsters behind witty, radio-friendly ditties like Green Eggs And Ham and King Of Spain. At the time, Fruvous was considered as much a comedy act as a musical one, and was booked at things like the Just For Laughs fest in Montreal.

"That (booking) kind of sucked," Ghomeshi laughs, "because if you're a comedy fan, you know that we're not that funny. We're only funny if you compare us to other bands."

So he's no Weird Al? "No, but he's a big fan! He always comes out to our shows when we play out West."

A sometimes-humorous band of Canadian ex-buskers who were old news at home but became huge in the States? Did somebody say Barenaked Ladies?

"We hear the comparison all the time," says Ghomeshi. "They're more of a commercial band than we are. But I've certainly sat down with them and had them say to me, 'Yeah, it's wild. We just played a massive arena in Detroit and then went home and played someplace small.' And that's certainly the way we feel."

"Not only did we emerge at the same time as the Ladies with music that could be considered humorous, but we emerged when the status quo of pop music was the opposite of that (laughs) -- grunge, shoe-gazing, suicidal Trent Reznor stuff. I think pop music has turned around at the end of the decade."

So what about that moratorium on taping? "On Wednesday, you will see people taping at the back of the hall, just like at a Deadheads show," Ghomeshi says. "We've supported that in a non-commercial way. But there's also this sense that for three years, we hadn't done a show that wasn't taped.

"A few weeks ago, I felt fed up knowing everything's on the record. We had big shows in Philly, Boston, Pittsburgh and D.C. and we said, 'Let's have a moratorium for a week and see how it feels creatively to know no one's taping it.'

"It felt great. We're allowing taping this week. But there's something really gratifying about a really good show living in people's memories as opposed to on second-rate dubs."

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