There's never been a band quite like Moxy Früvous, and the fans at the West End Cultural Centre last Friday and Saturday evenings weren't in the mood to argue. As the capacity crowd stood united, swaying and singing the familiar words to "The Drinking Song," Jean Ghomeshi draped a Quebec flag over his snare drum. The emotion was almost as intense as the following applause.
Ghomeshi, Mike Ford, Dave Matheson and Murray Foster make up Moxy Früvous, a youthful a cappella band from Toronto. Their recent pitstop in Winnipeg came in connection with the June release of their latest album, Wood, a CD which displays a very different, more serious side to the quirky quartet of Bargainville fame.
"We're very proud of [Wood]," Ford expressed in a recent phone interview. "It's very personal, it's more introspective, it's more moody. It's a whole side that we hadn't been able to express to our desires up until [its release], so it felt really good to get it out. I think we were able to come out of our shells a little more writing. Everyone expressed some pretty personal things on the album, whether it was a big break-up, or an abusive family or cults in our society; things that were on our mind and bugging us came through. We think the best way to listen to this album is straight through, curled up in your bed under three duvets with some incense burning."
Fans seemed to have warmed to the new feelings espoused by Wood. Songs like "The Present Tense Tureen," "Horseshoes" and their second single, "Fly," received appreciative cheers from the crowd.
"I think that Wood is a pure step in one direction," added Ford. "It's not the direction we're going to run with - in fact, the next album may be a complete departure from that, but just the honesty of it and the way we locked ourselves away and wrote together for a month...we just thought as little as possible about ‘will this sell' and ‘will this play on the radio'. You don't really hear a radio tune when you listen to it, and that's fine by us. And if you can call that a direction, that's the direction of the band."
During their Friday concert, Früvous supplemented Wood material with Bargainville favourites like "King of Spain," "My Baby Loves a Bunch of Authors," "Stuck in the '90s" and more. Their diversity, both live and on the albums, is one of the most distinctive characteristics of the band. The sound is unique, comprised of everything from accordion to banjo, and encompassing a wide variety of percussion instruments. A list of cover tunes and medleys added a fun twist to the performance, with snippets of lyrics ranging from ABBA to Hootie and the Blowfish.
It's the live show where Früvous really shines. No concert of theirs is complete without several impromtu comedy routines, sudden breaks into satire (read: Star Trek take-offs) and audience participation. Combine this with the outstanding vocal and musical talent that underlies their success and you've got an incredibly rich show, filled with surprises. And just over two hours later, having finished the second encore with the pure and naked voice sound of "The Gulf War Song," the fans were disappointed to see it end.
Luckily for Winnipeggers, the Früvous guys are far from strangers to Winnipeg and its loyal fans.
"The West End Cultural Centre is just fabulous - we love it. We've had some of our best shows of our life there!" said an enthusiastic Ford.
Last year, the quartet played two concerts at the WECC and this summer they headlined at Winnipeg's annual Folk Festival, a venue Ford claims the guys wouldn't miss for the world.
"We love folk festivals and that's how we got so many fans in Winnipeg," Ford remarked. "It's such a healthier concept of music. People can show up at folk festivals and play anything, pretty well. There's not much thrash happening there, or hip-hop or heavy metal, but there could be a bit. There's almost room for it."
The musicians like the relaxed atmosphere of the festivals and find them inspiring. It also helps them ignore the ins and outs of the music "industry," which threatens to corrupt their originality.
"[The folk festivals] are where we take our inspiration from, you know, not from what's bulleting up the charts and what's got the great "guitars out front" sound that everyone loves. If we tried to write that kind of stuff, it would probably sound like crap," Ford explained. "We try not to dwell on the industry itself; we try to pretend we're not even involved with it, which is a contradiction. But we're really enjoying just doing our own thing, playing what amounts to, in a lot of ways, a sort of vaudeville folk music."
In the next few weeks, Früvous takes their current tour out west and then back east, with dips into the States. After that, it's record, write and record for the band. Much to their fans' delight, they're busy coming out with two new releases for next year: the long-awaited "B" album and their third major album, which should be available before festival season starts next summer.
The "B" album is what Ford labels "a fan's treat." It promises to get to the heart of Früvous' satirical side, a side they and fans love, but one that just didn't fit with the mood they were trying to establish with Wood.
"It's all satire, all the time," said Ford. "It's pretty much a capella, up-tempo, satirical, political...some of the things are only 20 seconds long, some of the things are just us goofing around in the studio and some of them are just brand new political songs. Some of them are ones we've been doing for five years now that never found their way to tape. It's a labour of love."
As for the third major release, Ford didn't want to venture any guesses as to how it will sound, but it's safe to say it will be different from both Bargainville and Wood.
Whatever direction Moxy Früvous decides to take next, it's clear from their recent concerts that Winnipeg fans will follow their lead. The band has a well-established fan base of all ages that eagerly awaits the Früvous touch in next year's folk festival. It's also clear the Früvous guys feel more comfortable in their roles as musicians.
"I think it's safe to say we feel a bit more like a band these days. You know, more than just a project," Ford concluded.