Armed with nothing but a six string acoustic guitar and wearing his Bob Dylan influences proudly on his sleeve, Dan Bern is poised to take on the world. This promising singer / songwriter has slowly made a name for himself by touring incessantly over the last three years, and in the process has become a first rate performer who can keep his listeners hanging on every note and every word. It is impossible to leave Dan Bern’s music on as background entertainment. Even first-timers who have never heard him before get roped in.
At the Bottom Line Friday night he was in top form, alternating selections from his two albums as well as several unfamiliar songs which fit in effortlessly. It is particularly impressive how he can slide back and forth between sentimental family songs like “Oh Sister,” wry social commentary about “Too Late to Die Young,” and completely random stories about talking to God (title unknown). Dan Bern can sing a line such as “I have a dream about replacing Steve Kerr on the Bulls / and being the little white guy who they let shoot the 3’s” and have it sound like a major philosophical statement. And the show-closing versions of “Jerusalem” and “Marilyn,” on which the members of Moxy Fruvous joined him, were no less powerful. On “Jerusalem” he proclaims “I am the Messiah / Dr. Nussbaum was right / he’s my therapist / he said get it out in the open.” We can’t help but feel for poor Dan now that he has this great weight lifted.
Moxy Fruvous are no messiahs, but as an opening band they were more than just a time-filler. This Canadian quartet is starting to gather a following on liberal arts college campuses everywhere, and it’s easy to see why - they put on a great show, and never the same show twice. This evening they declared that were changing their name to “Paradigm Shift” and used it as a wacky running gag throughout the set. The Fruvous have been around for a while, but rather than shying away from old favorites that they’ve probably played 857 times, they simply change them enough to keep themselves (and the listeners) guessing - concert staples such as the a cappella “King of Spain” (the only pop song ever to mention a Zamboni) and a rap version of Dr. Seuss’ “Green Eggs and Ham” were performed as if they were brand new. But this band can be serious too - “Horseshoes” and “Half as Much,” among others, displayed Moxy Fruvous’ equal ability to be professional, and the scarily undated “Gulf War Song” from their 1991 debut album provided an engaging encore and sendoff.
Who says rock and roll is dead? Its spirit lives in top-notch performers such as Dan Bern and Moxy Fruvous. We can only hope that when and if each of these artists move on to larger venues they don’t lose their respective edges.