The band Fountains of Wayne played a free show Wednesday night at the Empire State Plaza (“Rockefeller’s Folly”) in Albany. The show nominally started at 6:00, but there were two opening acts (one that I missed, and one band with a female singer who wanted very badly to be Gwen Stefani, who covered Lita Ford’s “Kiss Me Deadly.” Which seemed like an odd choice, but worked for them), so the main show didn’t start until 8:30. Additionally, it’s been miserably rainy here this week, so the show was moved infdoors, to a room with less-than-ideal acoustics, so things didn’t start off especially well.
Once they finally got going, though, it was a good show. Sort of an odd crowd, though– much more families-with-small-children than the college-age kids I would’ve expected. Of course, it is the summer, so colleges aren’t in session, and free outdoor concerts are probably too dorky to attend. The majority of them seemed not to really know anything but the singles off the current album, and stood perfectly still through the first half-dozen songs from the previous records. They did perk up a bit for the office worker anthem “Hey Julie,” and a few people were bouncing up and down for “Stacy’s Mom,” but overall, it was about as calm as I’ve ever seen for a headline act.
There wasn’t much of a stage show to wow those who didn’t already know the songs. For one thing, it’s not like they’re an incredibly photogenic band– it’s four really skinny and slightly awkward-looking guys. They pretty much came out on stage, stood in front of the mikes, and played the songs straight up, with very little chatter (aside from a few saracastic comments about the big sponsor signs strung up over the stage), and not much modification. It didn’t really help that the lighting guy couldn’t seem to figure out that lead singer Chris Collingwood doesn’t play the guitar solos, and kept the spotlight on him even as actual lead guitarist Jody Porter pulled guitar faces off to the side. Collingwood took to turning his back during the solos, which is about as much motion as we got from him, aside from the occasional semi-ironic guitar flourish.
Then again, if you know the songs, there really isn’t much need for a stage show. Their specialty as a band is the carefully crafted three-to-four minute pop song, with a heavy emphasis on the clever lyrics. The songs don’t really allow a lot of room for extended guitar freakouts, or anything of the sort (though the guitar breaks on songs from the first album (recorded largely as a duo) were expanded a fair bit). The songs are mostly character sketches, though, so they don’t need a lot of instrumental embellishment.
Given the make-up of the audience, I was a little surprised at how many of the songs were taken off the older albums (not that this was a Bad Thing– Utopia Parkway is an excellent record). They opened with “I’ve Got a Flair” off their first album, followed by “It Must Be Summer,” which is a pretty good combination, but confused about half the audience. The first new track they played was “Hackensack,” which hasn’t been released as a single (as far as I know), but seemed to have some people singing along. Or maybe that was just the crappy acoustics– tough to say for sure. They didn’t skip any of the important tracks off the latest album (I would’ve liked to hear “Little Red Light” more than “Bought for a Song,” but they hit all the key tracks), but they filled the set out with a few odd choices from earlier records (“Go, Hippie” being the oddest. That’s probably my least favorite track from Utopia Parkway).
I was a little disappointed that they didn’t really do any cover songs– given the sort of band they are, that’s really the area where you would expect something different in a live show. They did work a bunch of stuff into the middle of “Radiation Vibe,” though– a sort of first-verse medly of the Steve Miller Band’s “Jet Airlier,” Foreigner’s “Double Vision,” and the Cars’ “Let’s Go,” along with instrumental nods to the Eagles and Boston (and I may have missed one). Of course, they didn’t sing any of the choruses, so as Collingwood noted, there were “a lot of confused young people” in the audience.
As I said, a good show. Not a blow-you-away, revelatory-experience sort of evening, but a solid performance. And with any luck, it’ll get some of the kids who came to hear “Stacy’s Mom” to pick up Utopia Parkway, which remains one of the most unjustly overlooked pop records this side of 1965.
Full disclosure note: the two main guys in Fountains of Wayne (Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger) both went to Williams. They graduated in ’86 (I believe), so they were a bit before my time, but the alumni connection does sort of require me to have a strong opinion about them….Powered by Sidelines