There are bands who burn out and fade away after a few huge hits and then there is Fountains of Wayne. Plugging away consistently since the dark days of 1996, unlike many of their college rock contemporaries, Fountains of Wayne have long settled down into a comfortable middle ground of releasing solidly consistent albums. Luckily, a lack of major mainstream recognition has not dampened their knack for a cracking power pop tune, which would go some way to explaining the enthusiastic turn out for their gig on an anonymous Sunday night in November.
With a better-than-decent back catalogue to dip into, main man Adam Schlesinger can afford the luxury of being relaxed, which would be the most obvious word to describe the atmosphere. Kicking off with a jubilant ‘Little Red Light’ and ‘I’ve Got A Flair’, there is the distinct feeling that we’re in a safe pair of hands. The finely-observed character studies at which FoW excel are most apparent in an energetic ‘Mexican Wine’ and ‘Leave the Biker’, which may as well be from the same album to the untrained ear. They perch easily alongside the new and more downbeat ‘Richie and Ruben’, the tale of two clueless hipsters, and ‘Winter Valley Song’, a lovely slide guitar-laden lament to Schlesinger’s struggles with SAD syndrome.
Fountains of Wayne are easily as Northeastern American as the Massachusetts Turnpike, which is both a help and a hindrance in a European market where style can sometimes be valued over musicianship and melody. This quintessential New Jersey-ness is none more obvious as when Schlesinger asks if we know Foreigner, to a slightly muffled reponse. “Yeah, we know Foreigner suck”, is the riposte before they launch into a cheesy covers medley that Take That would have been proud of, circa 1994. Perhaps a cheeky nod to the accusation of wearing their influences on their sleeves throughout their career, or maybe just feeding into a primal urge to, in the Yank parlance, rock out, there are no complaints from the audience. Finishing up with ‘Stacey’s Mom’ and ‘Sink to the Bottom’, which, it must be said, would not have been missed, it’s obvious that Fountains of Wayne are just fine cruising along in the middle.
Photos by Alan Moore.