Monday, January 26, 2009

Fountains of Wayne unplug to great effect

Chris Collingwood of Fountains of Wayne sings at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano on Friday night, Jan. 23, 2009.

Photo by Kevin Sullivan.

Both Kevin Sullivan's photo and my review were posted on the Orange County Register Web site on Saturday, Jan. 24, 2009.

There were several fans in the near-capacity crowd at the Coach House Friday night (January 23, 2009) who were likely disappointed that Fountains of Wayne initially ignored occasional loud calls to play the band's best-known hit, "Stacy's Mom."
That disappointment likely turned to confusion when the eclectic quartet finally did play the song, turning the upbeat tale of youthful lust into a wistful story of regret with a musical arrangement that recalled a Frank Sinatra cocktail lounge lament.

But such change-ups were largely the point of this stop, part of a brief, highly anticipated acoustic tour intended to test out new material and recharge creative juices that found Fountains of Wayne delivering an outstanding 20-song set in San Juan Capistrano.

With the exception of some electric bass guitar, the group took a decidedly unplugged approach all night, with drummer Brian Young using brushes while Adam Schlesinger, Jody Porter and lead singer Chris Collingwood worked on grand piano and acoustic guitars.
On a night where wary fans might have expected things to get a bit too folksy, the group opened with the aptly titled "Please Don't Rock Me Tonight." That song, like many to follow over the next 75 minutes, rocked despite the absence of electric guitars.

For those who appreciate the band's Beatles-y harmonies, endless parade of winning melodies and the sense of irony songwriters Schlesinger and Collingwood wield, the set list had something for everyone. "Someone to Love" and a new song, "The Summer Place," boasted up-tempo, driving rhythms, while an authentic alt-country sound that might please Wilco audiences was showcased on the terrific "I-95," "Valley Winter Song" and "Fire in the Canyon."
Of the fresh tunes the band played, "Cemetery Guns" was especially impressive. With a militaristic drum beat, arresting melody and lyrics focused on death and delivered perfectly by Collingwood, the song showcased Fountains of Wayne's continuing quest to stretch its sound and artistic range. Based on this showing, the group's next studio effort should be a strong one indeed.

Neither of the night's opening acts came close to attaining the kind of songcraft exhibited by the headliner. Singer-songwriter Dennis Roger Reed has a personable approach and winning folk-rock style, but his brand of cowboy blues was not particularly effective this night. His "Nickels and Dimes," however, proved to be catchy and gave him a chance to play a nice solo on acoustic guitar.
That Was Then is a promising young band out of the Dana Point area whose members' individual skills are strong, but after watching their 35-minute set, I firmly believe they should focus on trying to play together as an ensemble. The singer is armed with a pleasing voice, but various players often seemed to be in their own worlds, not paying attention to the nuances of their band mates' music-making. As a result, promising song ideas often became a patchwork of forces working against each other

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