Fountains of Wayne at the Vic Theater, November 2003

November 21st, 2003


By Mark Guarino Daily Herald Music Critic

Pop music comes in all shapes and sizes. These days there’s the stripper variety — you know, the little blond who isn’t quite a girl, not yet a woman? From that camp, music’s strictly a spiritless, cynical product with a marketing agenda steering the wheel.

There’s also pop music that’s simply about a great hook, an imaginative arrangement and memorable lyrics. The Fountains of Wayne illustrated that point many times during their 19-song, 80-minute show Wednesday night at the Vic. The show was a night off from their opening slot duties on the current matchbox twenty tour where they’re playing, presumably, to arenas full of Rob Thomas fans more interested in checking out what beer’s on tap.

Yet at their own show at the considerably smaller venue, the band faced an unusual crowd of diehards that consisted of middle-aged couples, hipster twentysomethings, college kids and grade schoolers.

You’d hardly find that variety anywhere else, but maybe it’s a sign of the current hunger for timeless pop music that’s both smart and catchy in the vein of founding power pop fathers Cheap Trick on up to The Cars.

“Stacy’s Mom,” the band’s first radio hit thanks to a video starring supermodel mom Rachel Hunter, was worshipful of the band’s heroes, down to the call-and-response vocals, popping synthesizer notes and clipped cymbal strikes.

Bassist Adam Schlesinger and singer-guitarist Chris Collingwood, the band’s two songwriters, refuse to identify who wrote what, creating the lure of a Lennon-McCartney partnership that focuses on the music.

The individuality in the songs played Wednesday was of the band. Ripped open with big hooks, elaborate vocal parts and powered by combustible playing of lead guitarist Jody Porter, songs like “Bright Future in Sales” and “Mexican Wine” became as big as a Lear jet.

Their scope easily could have accommodated flashy rock poses, but instead the band adopted a slouch that’s on the mark of the people in their songs: anxiety-ridden, beautiful losers working middle manager jobs.

The discrepancy between the music’s overzealous drive and the introspective lyrics makes the band’s third album “Welcome Interstate Managers” (S-Curve/Virgin),t he most complex pop album out this year.

On “She’s Got a Problem,” Collingwood and Schlesinger trade “oh yeahs” and “ooh-oohs” in perfect replication of ’60s girl group unity. But the song worries about the potential suicide of a friend, creating, like all of their songs, a sweet melancholy you can hum.

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