Photo Caption: The band, from left, Murray Foster, Mike Ford, Dave Matheson and Jian Ghomeshi: impromptu antics and eclectic music. LOUIE PALU/The Globe and Mail
Early last summer at an outdoor concert, Moxy Früvous launched into its ditty, The Greatest Man in America, a satirical homage to Rush Limbaugh. At first the confused Fort Smith, Ark., audience gave an earnest cheer. But by the time the band burbled out the lyrics "Not since Jesus Christ has the world seen someone/ With such widely syndicated views/ Hundreds of years from now they'll celebrate Rush-mas/ and Rush-Hashana for the Jews" a few hundred people had walked out. Oops.
"I guess they were angry at our pinko politics," drummer/singer Jian Ghomeshi smirked over ginger tea at a café last week.
Interestingly, though, the episode doesn't seem to irk the Toronto-based band. What really gets them kvetching are journalists who don't get their jokes.
"Once this reporter managed to misconstrue it and thought that we were actually singing the praises of Rush Limbaugh and his supporters," said guitarist/accordian player Dave Matheson.
Despite a little turbulence on the road, the nine-year-old-band from Thornhill, Ont., is winning more hearts than it is alienating these days. Without the benefit of a Top 10 hit or appearances on MTV, the comic a cappella/folk band has managed to build a diehard, concert-fan base, primarily in the United States.
These fans - who have christened themselves "Fruheads" - travel around North America following the band from show to show. Hundreds of pages of fan photos and written entries are posted monthly on the extensive Moxy Früvous Web site (www.fruvous.com). The fans are even waging a letter-writing campaign dubbed "Get Moxy Früvous on American TV." (There are unconfirmed rumours that Rosie O'Donnell is a fan.)
If you're having a hard time envisioning a Fruhead, imagine the itinerant Grateful Dead followers of the past - except cleaner, and with nicer cars.
On the Web site, hundreds of Fruheads posted scanned images of their ticket stubs (one fan has logged in more than 80) and keep obsessive diaries of shows, set lists, even the band's spontaneous bits of on-stage banter.
Ghomeshi and Matheson are understandably enthused - and amused - by the Fruhead phenomenon. "We recently met a stripper called Moxy who strips to our song Michigan Militia in a combat outfit," Ghomeshi beamed.
"We're not a top-down band," said Matheson referring to their lack of big-budget backing. "The fans in the States come because there's loads and loads of stuff in the show. We pack in a lot of humour."
Moxy Früvous, which began as an outdoor busking attraction on the streets of Toronto, was born from improvised sketches conceived in drama classes at Thornlea Secondary School in Thornhill (or as the fans call it, Früville).
"Even when we started the group, we saw it as more of a creative project. It wasn't like, 'Let's rock.'" Matheson said.
After years of extensive North American touring, the band is nearly as well known for impromptu performance antics as they are for their eclectic music. The well-worn Moxy motto is "never the same show twice." And with that reputation to uphold, it's hard to imagine that the Lads (as Fruheads call them) wouldn't work up a few tidbits in advance, isn't it?
Not so, said Ghomeshi. "Anyone who goes to the shows knows that the banter is spontaneous because half the time it's real crap."
The group may well be the only contemporary pop band who can claim they were discovered by CBC radio. Playing outside the Bloor Cinema in Toronto one afternoonm, a CBC executive broadcast them on Later the Same Day, a drive-home show. Soon they were writing and recording satirical songs for Morningside, the former national flagship show hosted by Peter Gzowski. During this period, they produced The Gulf War Song and My Baby Loves a Bunch of Authors (for the Toronto Harbourfront Author's Festival). But now that their champion, Gzowski, has gone into semi-retirement, Ghomeshi admits he spends more time listening to syndicated U.S. shock jock Howard Stern in the mornings.
After playing a concert tonight and a benefit for the Ontario Coalition for Abortion Clinics tomorrow night at Lee's Palace, Moxy Früvous will head into the studio to work up their fifth recording effort. The Lads promise that the album will yield more of their signature four-part harmonies and wry lyrics, but no more gag songs. And then just as he was getting serious, Ghomeshi winked, "And some music to strip to."