12/23/99: Artvoice 12/23 - 12/29/99

Y2K now has some Moxy - Fruvous that is.

Tyler Michael

If January 1 indeed proves to be the end of the world as we know it, these lovable Canadian rockers plan to take it out in style, book ending the old millennium and the new one with music.

They'll be playing both New Year's Eve and New Year's night at the marquee in Buffalo. Back-to-back shows on a celebratory weekend shouldn't be all the difficult, according to Jian Ghomeshi, a vocalist, drummer and songwriter in this multi-faceted and talented band that likes to straddle the fence between satire and seriousness.

"We figured if everything is still there (after Y2K) we can play the same place the next night," he said. "We can prove our stamina. The venue isn't particularly huge (accommodating about 600 people) but it's big enough. It's still got some intimacy, so it won't be a huge spectacle but it will be really exciting.

"Some of my favorite shows over the years have been New Year's shows," said Ghomeshi.

"Post midnight you can expect some covers. Pre-midnight will be Fruvous songs people might have become familiar with. Post-midnight will get a little crazy, as does the hour. We'll spill out onto Chippewa street looking for slabs of pizza we can eat."

There are some ideas pending on shows hijinks, Ghomeshi said. He adds that he actually is grateful to be playing Dec. 31st.

"My New Year's agenda has been taken care of by my agent and manager. 'You're playing in Buffalo, that's what you're going to do."

The build up to the millennium can be a hard act to follow, he admits. "This is the kind of year that can't possibly live up to the level of fun you're supposed to have," he said. " If you don't have the time of your life this New Year's Eve, this New Year's of the millennium - hell, it's like a kid's birthday. Your birthday could never live up to your anticipation of it. I'm just glad we've got a gig. It will be fun. There will be nice fans there. We've gone out of our way not to gouge fans. We tried to keep the ticket price low."

He finds it crazy that some performers will be charging outrageous prices just because it is the last New Year's Eve of the millennium.

Moxy Fruvous takes its role as entertainers seriously.

"There is almost an unspoken imperative among our audiences to expect us to entertain." Ghomeshi said. "That's something I really believe in. It is an old school notion at this point to believe if people are actually paying then you should entertain them rather than stare at your shoes or turn your back to the audience with the lights down. We perform in the neo vaudeville tradition and get up there just like buskers (which they were) trying to win the audience. It's almost as if we were back on the streets of Toronto where we started."

There are sensitive moments in the show, as well as true renditions of songs from their records. "But there's a lot of improvisation and spontaneity, also," he said. "I don't think we are that good at jamming and improvisation, it's just that there is such a dearth of spontaneous creation a lot of people say, 'wow!' I'm actually watching these guys create this on stage.'

"Even if what we come up with is shit, it is so unpackaged and unproduced, which is (opposite) of what so much of contemporary music is, it provides real excitement with fans. So, whether it is your first time or 50th time, undoubtedly it will be a show that no one has seen before. Our mandate is to put on a show that we've never done before." The set list changes nightly.

Ghomeshi said Moxy considers Western New York an excellent area to close out the millennium. "We've had a really, really great experience in this corridor. We feel a real kinship with Buffalo. We always joked that being in Buffalo is like being in Canada."

No matter what the country, there are still people trying to figure out who Moxy Fruvous is, he suggests.

"It's a long term losing proposition for us to try and pigeonhole ourselves," Ghomeshi explains. "God knows we tried and failed miserably."

He said the band is too interested in going where Fruvous hasn't gone before from album to album. "We just hope people will dig it as a project," he said. "Although there are some things you can expect from us, and one of them are the vocals. The vocals are a cornerstone. The four-part harmony does tend to rear its head no matter what sort of instrumentation is backing it up. And there's biting satire and gentle irony in all we do. Nothing is ever delivered too seriously."

Ghomeshi said the band is at a comfortable place. "We are very comfortable in our skin. Earlier in our career, there were times where we felt almost subtly apologetic for not being part of the grunge, alternative music status quo, instead of making this sort of gay, satirical music, eclectic music."

They are much more comfortable as players in a band now. "We always played our instruments, but something happens after seven years together playing and touring. I think Michael Stipe said you put six albums out and all of a sudden you become a band."

A goal for the band's latest album, Thornhill, was to make music that they felt was true to the group. They also wanted to try for a more cohesive record.

"In as much as we are an eclectic group, maybe let our eclecticism appear from record to record, as opposed to within a record. I think that's something (producer) Don Dixon brought to the record and the band - a sonic semblance, a musical cohesion on this record that really flows from song to song."

Thornhill is a reference to the Toronto suburb in which the group grew up. "This is really a loosely based concept album about growing up in the suburbs and discovering your friend's stereo downstairs, and learning about the Who and the Stones and CSNY, which is basically what happened to us.

"All the songs don't sound the same and the lyrics aren't the same theme, but the album really fits together musically. I really, really like the albums that do that, where it sounds like a moment in time. That's the goal with Thornhill."

Ghomeshi said Dixon (whose credits include R.E.M.) is the first producer that the group worked with whom they gave complete deference to his ideas. "We let him run with the ball. That's a testament to his experience and his value and the things he's done. We trust this guy. He's a really spiritually grounding kind of guy."

Ghomeshi hopes that people take time to explore the album. "I hope they dig a little deeper to what's being said on the record," he said. "We spent a lot of our career, and coming out of the busking and vaudevillian tradition, writing songs very much in your face. There is satire on this record, but you have to dig a little deeper for it. Basically, I hope that people give it a good listen and seek out more than what's on the surface."

The band has been an easy target for some people.

"We are damned if we do and damned if we don't." Ghomeshi said. "When we express our more humorous side, critics say it's just a novelty group, a comedy thing. When we express a more serious side or political side, which certainly exists, we are taken to task: 'what happened to these guys? They were funny. They've gotten all morose.' Once again, I think it's a byproduct of being an eclectic group within a culture that demands categorization."

He is gratified that Moxy has found success through hard work and believing in themselves.

"We won't deny that we would like lots of people to buy our CDs and come and see us," Ghomeshi said. "That we've done what we've done on a grassroots level, and have really big audiences in a lot of cities, in spite of no play on MTV, no commercial radio play, and not even a lot of print media, that truly is a grassroots phenomenon that is very gratifying to us.

"That says to me we are doing something right, actually moving people, playing and building a network of fans."

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