It seemed, on Fruday night, that the members of Moxy Früvous could have dropped their trousers and spouted logarithms on stage and their adoring fans would have lapped it up and begged for another number. Fortunately for all, it was a much more entertaining equation: Witty satire minus rock-star pretensions times four marvellous voices equals multiple pleasures.
Mirroring the wrath-of-God lightning show outside, the electricity inside Toronto's sold-out Music Hall was palpable and contagious. Before the lights went down, scores of young people (as in, not much older than the handful of children accompanying their Yup-to-the-minute parents) unashamedly performed the Hokey Pokey and the song about Bingo being the dog's name-o. The pep rally concluded with a spontaneous, heartening rendition of O Canada before the Moxies took the stage.
Actually, the four of them (Michael Ford, Murray Foster, David Matheson and Jean Ghomeshi) first bounced down the aisles, sporting paper animal masks and tossing about little bags of those weird food pellets sold at game farms and duck ponds. (It was all in keeping with the theme of the Moxies' Petting Zoo TV tour, itself a cheeky swipe at pomp-rocker U2's epic Zoo TV tour).
Moxy Früvous excels at cheekiness. The four-man (mainly) a cappella band, which sits in the musical-satire spectrum somewhere between the ingeuousness of the Barenaked Ladies and the bite of Corky and the Juice Pigs, draws its arrows from any number of quivers. The boys manage to cite George Orwell ("Eight legs good, two legs bad," in their skewed adaptation of the Spiderman theme), Karl Marx's theory of alienation (an auto worker laments, "I'd like to buy her one" to the response "Where'll you get the money, son?") and, in what seems to be their most popular number, Dr. Seuss.
Yes, Dr. Seuss. One could only wish the late author were around to see the giddy, faux-rap version of his Green Eggs and Ham, to marvel at the protean give-and-take between Mr. Cheese and Sam I Am. The good doctor might also have enjoyed another crowd favourite, My Baby Loves a Bunch of Authors, the deceptively upbeat lament of a frisky young man in love with a woman who only wants to slip between the covers of a novel. Dragged to a writer's party, the narrator is swayed to the side of literature when he discovers that "Ondaatje started a food-fight/Salmon mousse all over the scene/ Spilled some dressing on Doris Lessing/These author types are a scream."
It's this type of sly, intellectual fun that's make Moxy Früvous a very hot ticket around town (rumour has it that even the glossy types at Toronto Life bop around to Moxy's fast selling, self-titled debut recording). The show's encore brought more treats, albeit at the expense of the pop music industry. By seamlessly weaving together the moronic, shiny-toothed optimism of Abba's Dancing Queen with Lou Reed's sinister Walk on the Wild Side, and by performing a screeching, Nirvana-ish version of their own King of Spain, the Moxies cleverly tweaked the nose of pop stars everywhere.
Their irony, however, is a little era-specific, with scattered references to Star Trek, the Next Generation, The Trouble With Tracy and the aforementioned Abba. (And did the kids really get the jab at Pat Buchanan, or was it an automatic applause response?)
Also, the satire, though sometimes sharp-edged ("You shop Loblaws Green and read Equinox/and throw out your guilt in a little blue box"), isn't quite cutting it. It's too friendly, too good-natured, as if Moxy is afraid to make people squirm when they want to be dancing. We know they have the weapons in their arsenal, so go ahead, guys, make shish kebab out of a sacred cow or two. Like the proverbial girl with the curl on her forehead, when they're good, they're very, very good. Maybe they should try, some time, to be horrid.