Philadelphia's quirky set was in fine form last Thursday evening, braving cold and rain to hear the folk and fusion of Canadian pop icon Moxy Fruvous. The concert packed South Street's T.L.A. with what band member and unofficial emcee Jian Ghomeshi called "a healthy cross-section of hippies and geeks."
It was a big show for the band, because a recording of it will released as a new live album, and they turned their verbal and musical antics up a notch for the occasion. The crowd was treated to up-to-the-minute media references, locally tailored riffs like Cream Cheese of Philadelphia" (after Springsteen), and zany interstitial material, including an informal referendum on Quebec nationalism.
Moxy Fruvous was formed six years ago by four kids who grew up together in Toronto. It's a funny-sounding name for a funny-sounding band, one that is serious about being silly. Their songs are often ironic reflections on popular culture, like "Video Bargainville," full of allusions to the media, politics, other musicians, and commercial culture. One Track, "Kick in the Ass," is nothing but a laundry list of topical and trivial complaints.
The band's current tour, dubbed "Your New Boyfriend," includes tunes from "You Will Go to the Moon," the album they released last spring. The tour's name is derived from one of their more laconic refrains: "Your new boyfriend's a bit/Of a right-wing shit." The show featured other music from that album, including "Get In The Car," "No No Raja," and the title song, as well as many songs from their perennially popular first album, "Bargainville."
Thursday Night's show included an especially energetic rendition of perhaps the new album's best-loved song, "Michigan Militia," which features merry lyrics about stockpiling AK-47s played above a background of mumbled paranoid rantings. The live version, featuring a toy megaphone, has evolved since I heard its Michigan premier last spring. The [band] also excelled with such lyrical ballads as "The Drinking Song" and "Fell in Love."
I should mention that Moxy and me go way back, ever since a popular teacher at my high school became a "Fruhead" and began proselytizing to her students. She inspired a classmate of mine to form a Moxy Fruvous fan club. Last year one of my friends regaled my A-period calculus class each morning with proclamations of her lust for band member Murray Foster, as well as last night's newsgroup postings.
The band's shows are also remarkable for stepping beyond the ordinary vocabulary of rock, mentioning pabulum and Pinochet in successive lyrics, and rhyming "plebiscite" with "troglodyte." They're at home making traditional electric and acoustic sounds, but they also like to mess around with banjos, congas, and accordions. When they want emotional impact, as in the rarely-performed "Gulf War Song", they sing a cappella.
Fruvous seems to be relying heavily on their early compositions to please the crowds. Still they have a great time, and so does their audience. Their spirit is summed up by the encore number "Sam I Am," a rap version of the Dr. Seuss book "Green Eggs and Ham," a story about the dissolution of cynicism and fear. In a sense, I think Moxy Fruvous is a perfect antidote to the inchoate angst that typifies contemporary music.
Their fans are cerebral and energetic, and these guys cater to their taste. As their manager told me, the band didn't want to constrain anyone's choices so they produced two versions of the tour T-shirt: You can buy either "Your New Boyfriend" or "Your New Girlfriend."