New York’s veteran aces of power pop Fountains of Wayne have been putting out records for thirteen years, but this spring saw the release of its first ever live DVD, entitled No Better Place: Live In Chicago (Shout! Factory). In fact, it was released within days of its short east coast winter tour that started in January and finished up in Massachusetts on March 1.
The main portion of the DVD was recorded in Chicago in October of 2005; the bonus 5-song acoustic set was filmed in December of 2008 in New York.
Cutting right to the chase, this DVD is grade A material, as it contains performances of nearly all your favorite FOW songs, plus a few newer tracks that sound pleasantly folky and Americana-esque in acoustic form. The slide guitar-propelled “Fire In The Canyon” in particular comes to mind.
Culling much of the 16-song main set from the band’s arguably best two records – the self-titled 1996 debut and 2003’s Welcome Interstate Managers – was a smart decision, as essentials like “Stacy’s Mom,” “Hey Julie,” “Radiation Vibe,” “Valley Winter Song” and “Sink To The Bottom” were included and sound vibrant here. Other notables include the Elvis Costello-ish-punk-meets-doo-wop hit “Denise” and the light and breezy “Hackensack,” which was as gentle as the warm summer wind. Less popular but no less lacking in hooks, the rollicking “Maureen” and “Janice’s Party” are from Out-Of-State Plates, a 2-CD leftovers compilation from 2005.
On the bonus acoustic session from last year, singer/rhythm guitarist Chris Collingwood definitely looks a bit older with his fully grown beard and mustache, but he and his band still perform as if it were 1999 all over again. The oldie “Joe Rey,” even on acoustic and piano (courtesy of bassist Adam Schlesinger) sounds energetic and punk-ish, while the Beatles-esque “I-95,” “Someone To Love” and the ex-lovers-based and Gram Parsons-ish “Fire In The Canyon” are from the group’s fourth studio album Traffic And Weather, released in 2007. Though clearly not the group’s best and most memorable album, these selections sound grand and tight.
Other than saying it was an “honor” to play in Chicago, FOY didn’t talk much between numbers or banter with the audience all that much, though there are a couple of between-performance moments worth noting. After Collingwood teased the crowd with an impromptu riff of the Kansas ballad “Dust In The Wind,” Schlesinger joked: “Kansas just got like $300 because he did that.” After some laughter, the singer said: “They deserve it.” Speaking of classic rock, it wasn’t lost on this reviewer that FOY brilliantly snuck in a riff or two of Eric Clapton’s “Layla” during an early performance of “I’ve Got A Flair.”
Another odd moment happened early after the drinking-party-themed b-side “Janice’s Party” when Collingwood stated: “Contrary to popular belief, not all of our songs are about drinking.” His songs are more about life’s everyday issues and themes including work, travel, girls and such, and so knowing full well that not many fans think what Collingwood stated was true, an audience member appropriately shouted “Huh?” before FOY continued on.
There are hardly any outstanding issues or flaws to be had with this release, but the run time of +/- 75 minutes seems a little short for a band approaching its fifteenth year in existence. Then again, much of its material is in the typical three-minute pop song range and hardly ever stretches beyond the four-minute mark. Sure, oldies like “Leave The Biker” were left off the set list, but at 21 songs total between full rock band mode and an acoustic set, there are plenty of performances here to satisfy curious and casual Fountains of Wayne fans alike.
Taking a closer look at the performing side, though Jody Porter’s guitar showmanship is impressive given the constraints of a pop band, there is a bit of a lack of excitement and energy coming from most other members. The band, and especially Collingwood, keeps its collective “game face” on the whole show with seeming ease, choosing to reveal personality traits between songs instead of in-song. But make no mistake about it: Fountains of Wayne is a seriously fun power pop band. They just apparently feel like letting the audience show them how much fun they’re having while the band simply concentrates and rocks out the jams.
Overall, Fountains of Wayne’s No Better Place DVD is a fun and timely release from a band who writes nothing but timeless pop rock numbers. Musically, a song like “Radiation Vibe” is still as edgy and rockin’ now – in a Radiohead “Bones” kind of way – as it was in 1996. Indeed, many of their older songs would no doubt still sound like hits today, in a rock world that still values power pop acts (Weezer comes to mind, for one).
The 5-song bonus acoustic set is also a treat and acts as a well-timed preview for fans heading out to see FOW on its acoustic tour this summer (if you missed them earlier this year). So pick up No Better Place if you’ve ever been a big Fountains of Wayne fan or into good time, summery pop rock in general.
Here’s a clip of the Chicago performance of "Stacy’s Mom" for your enjoyment.
Be sure to check out fountainsofwayne.com for a full list of tour dates as they become available.