Show report: Fountains of Wayne

Several thoughts about Fountains of Wayne, who played last night at the High Noon.

  • Very old crowd.  Oldest crowd I’ve been in since I saw the Bangles.  But the Bangles were really popular more than twenty years ago, and Fountains of Wayne had their biggest hit (“Stacy’s Mom”) in 2003.  So why was everybody so old?
  • They played an amplified acoustic set, which isn’t the best fit for them.  Intense production and sonic variety is part of the Fountains of Wayne sound.  Many of their songs, when strummed, sound alike.
  • But the standouts, as they ought to, stood out:  “Stacy’s Mom,” “Bright Future in Sales,” “Red Dragon Tattoo,” and, above all, the magnificent “Radiation Vibe.”  It is one of the great rock mysteries that this absolutely flawless piece of 1990s slightly grunge-tinged powerpop, backed by a major label, wasn’t a massive hit.  Last night the band played this as a medley with “Jet Airliner,” “Carry on My Wayward Son,” and “Reunited,” delivered with exactly the right mix of giggle and respect.  Except “Reunited.” That was all giggle.
  • Now’s my chance to point out that “Bright Future in Sales” features the slickest use of internal rhyme in rock lyrics I know:

I think I had a

black wallet in my

back pocket, with a

bus ticket, and a picture of my baby inside


  • “Stacy’s Mom” started out listless and loungy, as if they were taking the piss out of their only hit.  But it ended up someplace kind of stately and great, like what the song would have been if it were supposed to be fake Big Country instead of fake Cars.  I like the original version better, but I like the Cars a lot more than I like Big Country.
  • The band’s namesake, a New Jersey furniture store,  just closed.
  • If I were the kind of guy who wrote 30,000 word essays about cultural capital in rock music — OK, let’s face it, I aspire to be that kind of guy — I would write one about the confusing role of funniness in rock music.  Some funny bands, like Fountains of Wayne and They Might Be Giants, are ghettoized as semi-novelty acts because so much of their act relies on lyrical cleverness and whimsy.    Others, like the Divine Comedy and the Magnetic Fields, are valorized as latter-day Cole Porters on essentially the same grounds.  What’s the difference?  Extra credit questions:  what about Robyn Hitchcock?  And is it true, as people I kind of trust have told me, that the Barenaked Ladies are actually really great?

Too much deep thought.  Time to listen to “Radiation Vibe” again.

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6 thoughts on “Show report: Fountains of Wayne

  1. Darren says:

    Any thoughts on Hem’s cover of “Radiation Vibe”? I rather like it, but I know other Fountains of Wayne fans who dont.

  2. Tom says:

    You might be able to get 30,000 words out of just the Magnetic Fields / They Might Be Giants distinction. Especially since TMBG started off as cap-P, cap-A Performance Art.

    But also don’t forget the most respected band of all time, creators of “Rocky Raccoon,” “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill,” “Yellow Submarine,” “I Am the Walrus,” etc., etc.

  3. nichole says:

    I agree, it was a fine show! Bonus fun: we were sitting in the balcony, where we peeked at FoW chilling on the patio during Jon Auer’s set, chatting with a guy who coulda been Stacey’s dad’s age. I have no idea why the demo skewed older…

  4. JSE says:

    Darren — it’s OK. I think that the phrasing is really important in FoW’s songs and I don’t care for the way Hem messes with it. In particular: the point of the chorus is that it’s supposed to be ambiguous between

    “now it’s time to say what I forgot to say, baby
    Baby, Baby, c’mon what’s wrong”


    “now it’s time to say what I forgot to say:
    Baby, baby, baby, c’mon what’s wrong”

    which are two different things. Hem collapses this.

    Tom — point taken, although I think somehow people separate out Yellow Submarine and Rocky Raccoon as “gag songs,” and “I am the Walrus” is more Dada than Haha.

  5. What Fountains of Wayne serve up often is satirical, whereas Magnetic Fields is more like drollery. Audiences have a hard time with satire sometimes.

  6. Tom says:

    But the fact that people do compartmentalize the “gag songs” is the point of the mystery. Look at the White Album again. Imagine a band that had already been positioned in the They Might Be Giants quirk niche performing “Back in the U.S.S.R.,” “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” “Happiness Is a Warm Gun,” “I’m So Tired,” “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey,” “Honey Pie”–even or particularly “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “Revolution 1.” It’s very easy to put a crayon mustache on any of those songs without changing the material at all.

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