As Moxy Fruvous goes in search of an American audience, Jean Ghomeshi asks the big question: "Why is it some huge band can travel the world singing about their experiences in Georgia -- R.E.M. -- and a band can't sing about Toronto, Canada?"
Yeah. Why is that? They have eye makeup in Toronto too, you know.
Moxy Fruvous, the band of Canadian pop-music satirists that plays Milestones on Saturday, packed the place last year. And this show looks particularly appealing to the musically intellectualized with the addition of the theatrically comic opening act Squank Opera Company.
(With They Might Be Giants playing at the Rochester Institute of Technology that same night, this may be the whimsically weirdest weekend Rochester has ever experienced.)
Moxy Fruvous remains a Canadians-only act to some ears, despite its modest alternative radio successes in this country with non-Canadian themed songs such as My Baby Loves a Bunch of Authors and The King of Spain from their first album, Bargainville. And Moxy's newest album, wood, is a very different sound: If Bargainville's loopy irreverence reflected the group's beginnings as street performers, then wood's studied musicianship reflects the fact that all four of these guys were musicians before Bargainville.
And the fact is, they hardly do any songs about Toronto.
"It's the opposite," says Ghomeshi, a singer-keyboardist-percussionist-guitarist born in London, England, of parents of Iranian descent. "If we do sing about Canadian issues, Americans can empathize with some related issue in the United States. And because we're right next to America, all we hear is 'We're American, we're No. 1,' so we have an inferiority complex."
Indeed, 85 percent of Canadians live along the border of the two countries (the remaining 15 percent sleep in fishing boats tied to wharfs around Nova Scotia). So Canadians can't help but be influenced by what's going on here. And they're forced to hear all about our problems, because American television and radio programs flood across the frontier in the uninhibited fashion of snarling lemmings in heat.
For example, two weeks ago Moxy Fruvous was recording songs for its next release, The B Album. It will include Moxy show stoppers such as Jenny Washington, which attacks the American daytime TV staple, the talk show. And The Greatest Man in America rips into the only person in this country who deserves to be called a fat blowhard more than Roseanne: Rush Limbaugh.
"Not since Jesus Christ has the world seen someone with such widely syndicated views," is how Moxy Fruvous sings Limbaugh's praises. "Oh, we love Rush Limbaugh," says Ghomeshi. (Unfortunately, no typeface adequately conveys such acid sarcasm.)
"Newt Gingrich, Pat Buchanan all have this very convincing, '90s social statement," says Ghomeshi. "They're saying that if you work hard enough and are smart enough, you'll make it. Which is untrue. This is a structure that naturally breeds inequity. I think there has to be state intervention to smooth things out. It's amazing that after Ronald Reagan and trickle-down economics, and as the gap grows between the rich and the poor, that people still buy into this.
"We're not a political group by any means. We don't have a party agenda. We do sing directly to things like Jenny Washington, which is about the cheapening of our culture and our spirit. Those shows play to the lowest common denominator of our spirit. It's kind of a pathetic period when all that's on TV is the same format of some provocative host trying to figure out if somebody's boyfriend is a lesbian."
It seems odd when Ghomeshi proclaims, "It's a pretty dark period for pop culture," because Moxy Fruvous' sound, and its songs, are so bright. It's really kind of a happy band.
"We're here to present an alternative to the present status quo," he says. "I'm really tired of the message being there's no future. And we're not talking about punks with economic disparity in England in the mid-'70s. We're talking about middle class kids in America buying into this.
"I find it extremely homogeneous watching MTV or Much Music here in Canada, where they go through the big hits by all the alternative bands: 'I'm a loser baby, I'm a creep, we've got no future.' Don't get me wrong, there's a healthy place for that. I'm not saying we should all be the Partridge Family. I'm not saying we should all be Pat Robertson. I'm just tired of the same message."
What: Moxy Fruvous with Squank Opera Company
When: 10 p.m. Saturday
Where: Milestones, 50 East Ave.
Admission: $6 advance, $7 the day of the show
Call: (716) 325-5880
Jeff Spevak is staff music critic for the Democrat and Chronicle and the Times-Union. Call him weekdays at (716) 258-2452 or write to 55 Exchange Blvd., Rochester, N.Y. 14614.