When I went to my first Moxy Früvous concert in San Francisco in 1998, the sum total of my knowledge about them was: (a) they’re Canadian; (b) they had written an interesting song about the (first) Gulf War; and (c) a couple of my friends liked them. This was not much to go on, and consequently I approached the concert without any expectations at all.
The band consisted of four guys in their late 20s or early 30s, who mingled with the audience in the club before the show as though they were close personal friends with all 400 or so of us. Then, as the music started, I noticed something that hardly ever happens at concerts: I could actually understand all the words. This shouldn’t be remarkable, but you know how it is at concerts. The fashionable idea of a good live mix is to have every channel turned up all the way, which guarantees that the instruments will drown out the vocals. Not so here: the music was loud, sure, but nicely balanced. This was my first clue that these guys took their art seriously.
The next thing I noticed was that the lyrics I was hearing so clearly were both thoughtful and hilarious. Songs about renting videos, love lost and found, politics, and the profligacy of pop culture…every topic treated incisively and with finesse. The songs were not all funny, but they were uniformly well written—clever and edgy, yet folksy, without any hint of commercial pretense. The band members displayed the kind of cutting humor that can only come from being intelligent and well-read; I daresay their knowledge of history, politics, and current events put nearly everyone in the audience to shame.
After the first song or two, the four musicians rearranged themselves on stage and switched instruments. The bass player took over on drums, the drummer picked up a guitar, the banjo player (yes, I said banjo) strapped on an accordion (yes, I said accordion), and the guitar player stepped up to a keyboard. They acted like this was the most normal thing in the world. All four took turns on lead vocals as well, and yet every song managed to have the same distinctive Früvous sound. I thought to myself: these are real musicians. Cool.
The Lowest Highest Point
Perhaps the most entertaining part of the concert was the banter between songs. It was like a highly intellectual improv comedy show thrown in for free. This clearly met with the approval of the audience. I was surrounded by a bunch of rabid Früvous fans—who, I was later to learn, call themselves Früheads. The audience seemed every bit as involved in the show as the musicians, and once or twice the band threw together an impromptu song on the spot in response to some comment from the audience.
The band’s rapport with their audience was legendary. For about a year and a half, Moxy Früvous used a clever marketing tactic to draw people to their concerts. Attendees received “Frühead Cards,” which were stamped once at each concert. Fans received prizes for accumulating various numbers of stamps. Collect six stamps, get an autographed T-shirt; 18, and the band will write and record a song just for you; 24, an all-expense-paid bowling trip with the band, and so on.
But the decision to nurture groupies in this way was a mixed blessing. By the time they finished fulfilling their commitments to cardholders, the band had recorded 41 fan songs for Früheads who had earned 18 or more stamps. The fans were, of course, thrilled, but the additional work of fan maintenance was clearly taking its toll on the already overworked band.
Stuck in the ’90s
In late 2000, Moxy Früvous announced that they were taking a “hiatus” from touring. Fair enough: life on the road can be brutal. They never claimed to be disbanding, but the members have all become involved in other projects and don’t show any signs of reconstituting the band. After all this time, Früvous fans generally assume this hiatus was intended to be permanent but the band didn’t want to come right out and say it. That would hurt too many feelings: Früheads have an enormously proprietorial attitude toward their beloved band.
It seems I have a knack for discovering great bands just as they fade into retirement or, shall we say, an extended state of nonproduction. And yet, the fact that you can no longer see Moxy Früvous in concert in no way diminishes the appeal of their music. The full canon of Früvous recordings—seven CDs produced between 1993 and 2000, plus a rare 1992 cassette-only release—can still be found and enjoyed, and many of the one-off fan reward songs can be heard on the band’s Web site. With or without the band, the Früvous legacy lives on. —Joe Kissell