Fountains of Wayne
is Brian Young
and Jody Porter.
Fountains of Wayne
Published: Apr 25th, 2007
Author: Steven Zeitchik
Band: Chris Collingwood, Adam Schlesinger, Jody Porter, Brian Young, Steven Gold, Ronnie Buttacavoli, Scott Harrell, Trevor Numann, Laurence Kern, Ethan Novak.
Fountains of Wayne has always been about pushing in two opposite directions at once. They write sing-along power pop with an undercurrent of melancholy. They mock an endless supply of working stiffs but somehow manage sympathy for them. And they unashamedly knock off the Beach Boys while standing apart from harmony-driven bubblegum. In a show at Gotham's Webster Hall, they pushed harder than ever in those opposite directions.
The dualities came often in a short set -- just 80 minutes -- that managed to pack in two encores. As the band tore through its engaging odes to the DMV workers, middle-management commuters and lonely couch potatoes, frontman Chris Collingwood radiated a stoicism that could be interpreted as either indifference or effortlessness. It was, more likely, the latter; it takes a lot of work to look like you're not trying.
So when the band offered little banter or expression on older songs like "Joe Rey" and "Mexican Wine," or newer ones like "Yolanda Hayes" and "Strapped for Cash," it added yet another counterpoint to the upbeat tunes about hollowed-out lives: detachment.
Collingwood, his voice more pinched than usual, stayed away from songs that require a lower register; except for "Hackensack," his first-person anthem to dead-end living, he didn't play any ballads.
FoW plays thirtysomething rock for an appropriately aged crowd that's just slightly too young to remember the acts the band is channeling. Plenty of other bands these days (the New Pornographers come to mind) have made a similar living with the marriage of irony and harmony. But no band has been doing it for as long, or as well, as FoW.
After four albums of hook-laden melodies, the band does have to face down the essential dilemma of power-pop: how to keep the energy sustained for a whole show without the hooks becoming repetitive. The solutions on Tuesday were careful forays outside the genre -- a calypso-flavored version of "Hey Julie," and scattered horn and country digressions.
Themes on FoW's major-label return, "Traffic & Weather," aren't the most original. Where the band once offered a carefully etched tableaux of office drudgery -- who hasn't witnessed the pretty careerist the next cube over, the fat secretary or the lunchtime lover? -- the latest crop of commuters watching "King of Queens" reruns have become a little formulaic. You can only comment on banality for so long without falling into its grip.
But if the portraits are repetitive, the music from Collingwood and his bandmate/songwriting partner Adam Schlesinger have grown more complex. The music on "Traffic & Weather" switches tempo, avoids hooks and offers plenty of countermelodies.
Band offers a rather uninspired version of "Stacey's Mom," its 2003 gag hit, and one might have suspected a rejoinder to the fans who jumped on the wagon too recently. What FoW was really doing was saving itself for the next song, a muscular rendition of the band's first single, 1996's "Radiation Vibe." Then it zoomed right back to the present with the subtly complex "Traffic & Weather."
Juxtaposed this way, the songs showed how far the band has come from its fun but plaintive tones of its early days. Despite the ever-present goofiness and melancholy, FoW are still not afraid of the originality that made this band with New Jersey roots such a standout in the first place. And besides, who really wants to go back to Hackensack?