These street performers from Toronto got moxie, they do. And not just in name, for Moxy Fruvous has the pep to stop heavy pedestrian traffic and the genre defying, globally inflected, Dr. Demento disregard for conventional musical and career path.
Perhaps you caught the Canadian quartet at the '99 Ann Arbor Folk Festival. If so, then you already know. You probably call yourself a Fruhead and log on to the chats and websites devoted to the devoted.
If you didn't and don't yet, fret not; all it takes is trying the band just once. They're like Pringles (bizarre, not quite real, addictive) poaching the Lay's motto: There's simply no stopping the fascination and smiles when taking the band in.
And with two shows at The Ark, you'll have the chance to get hooked on the band.
Says Michael Ford, the band's guitarist/percussionist, "Our philosophy toward performance is that if we have fun, they'll have fun. It's almost like this back and forth inspirational thing, like a tug of war over a pit of Jell-O and brandy. We aim for a win-win scenario."
The band's beginnings date to the 1980s in Thorn Hill, Ontario, where all four members, Michael Ford, Murray Foster, Jian Ghomeshi and David Matheson, went to a high school for the performing arts. Clowns and theater club punks, the four went their separate ways after graduation, only to reunite in 1990 as an a cappella vaudevillian-stand-up comedy quartet to busk on their hometown streets for coins and small bills. They used The Beatles and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young as guides for their four part harmonies and vocal arrangements, and Monty Python and Frank Zappa for their slapstick and silly humor. Their act, performed on Friday nights under the marquee of Toronto's busy Bloor Cinema, became so well known that by the time they showed up to busk, there would already be several hundred people waiting for them.
After gaining notoriety (and rising above their parents' dismay), a local radio station commissioned the quartet to sing some songs for a local charity event. The project turned into a six-song cassette that sold 60,000 copies. The cassette became "Bargainville," a full-length CD that sold 135,000 copies in Canada.
From grassroots to pastures of plenty, the band has released five recordings, including "Live Noise," an official bootleg live recording, to satisfy the hordes of Fruheads who, like heads of old, travel in packs following the band from show to show.
Supposedly, there was a man named Anton (or was it Gilbert?) Fruvous who, in a basement in 1929, was working on a contraption called the Fruvous, which was designed to transfer electrical energy through thin air. The device (again supposedly) was mounted with a gauge, and the highest setting was Moxy. Supposedly, the only time that the Fruvous was turned to Moxy, every piece of glass within a quarter mile was shattered.
Either that, or the band is named for the spoon used to eat a frozen dessert from Finland.
The sound of music
It's been described as "The Roches meet XTC at a party thrown by Camper Van Beethoven for Robyn Hitchcock's marriage to Cole Porter with They Might Be Giants as a wedding band and Tom Lehrer acting as a minister, but just as everyone starts singing old Queen songs, the party is crashed by the entire cast of the Muppet show." But that description leaves out Dr. Suess, Richie and the Fonz, the Beach Boys, George Gershwin, the Mills and the Smothers brothers and Stevie Wonder with Zappa at the helm.
Frankly, The Ark stage may be too cramped for the full effect the band reaches for, as members stroll, strut and leap across the stage with microphones and bull horns in hand. Charismatic they are, full of pomp and theatrics. Each member takes lead vocals while acting out the storyline in character. Audience participation. Banter. Visual effects. Drama. It's all there, because, after all, these guys came up on the street, singing for quarters (Canadian, at that), and always with the threat that if bored for a second, the audience might walk away for espresso or ice cream.
"Bargainville" started the roll, followed by "Wood," "B," the official bootleg "Live Noise" and the newest, most instrumental "You Will Go to the Moon." And each record, like their performances, proves that categorizing music is fruitless. But for the moment, "Bargainville," "Live Noise" and "Moon" are the only United States releases.
Fruheads shatter the image of frantic, frenetic, fanatical fans set by Deadheads. They rise from all walks of life and lifestyles, and are usually bathed and fully clothed. But they rival Garcia-worshipers in devotion. Certainly they tape the shows and trade among friends and on the Internet. They crave the new and obscure material more than the hits, memorize the banter and jokes from the stage, and will post the lyrics to a new song on the web before the morning after the show.
"We are really fortunate with this Fruhead phenomenon," says Ford. "They know all the stuff, but they want hear the most obscure songs. And they really listen. It's almost like they're thrilled to be a jury. And they're a bunch of geeks, just like we are. And we like that."
Witness the moment of actualization, for as Ford says, the band is just now breaking the tip of the iceberg and thinking of themselves as a band, rather than a project. Judge for yourself.