The Wild Crazy World of Moxy Fruvous
By Brian L. Knight
Au revoir cliché, hola Moxy Fruvous!
Every now and then Canadian musicians cross the northern border and bring some new music to eager Americans. The 60's brought some great songwriters such as Stephen Stills, Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot and Joni Mitchell. During the 1970s, Bachman Turner Overdrive took care of business while Loverboy had everybody working for the weekend during the 1980s. In recent years, the Great White North has provided the alternative yet unique sounds of The Tragically Hip and Crash Test Dummies.
The newest band to make their mark upon the American landscape is Moxy Fruvous. These boys from Toronto have already taken Canada by storm and they are ready to take the United States with a vengeance. Burlington was the first U.S. stop on Moxy Fruvous' 2 1/2 month United States and Canada tour. The band is accustomed to filling 12,000 person concert halls throughout Canada, but they weren't disappointed by to be playing in a smaller venue like Club Metronome.
Guitarist and vocalist Mike Ford, who was celebrating his 30th birthday on the day of the show, commented on Moxy Fruvous' growth: "The neat thing about is how it contrasts with our story in Canada, because we took off there way faster than anybody was prepared for in 1992-1993. It just went ka-boom and we weren't solid. We hadn't jelled yet. We didn't know exactly what we were. We had some neat stuff and a lot of it was the basis of what you see today or at least a good amount of it. But we weren't there. Here we were, traveling across Canada, playing these sold out concerts and stuff. It was kind of nuts because everybody was screaming because they saw us on TV that day. Where as in the United States, it has been a very slow build the whole way. Each time we come back, word of mouth seems to be working."
Despite their venue downsizing, Moxy Fruvous was excited to be in Burlington. In addition to Mike Ford, the band consists of Jian Ghomeshi on vocals, drums and percussion; Dave Matheson on vocals, accordion, banjo and guitar and Murray Foster on bass and vocals. The quartet all met in high school in Toronto. Ford discussed the early days," Moxy Fruvous didn't start until years after high school. We just happened to do things together in high school. Two of us were in a theater play together, two of us wrote music for a musical. Two of us did folk duo together, two of us did a funk-pop band together. So there was a lot of cross-pollination. And then one summer, we saw that people were making money on the streets of Toronto and we said let's try it. Our first gig was at a tourist location in Toronto. We had our sights set on getting so much booty from that gig that we would have a wild drunken weekend. But we got a dime and a dirty Kleenex thrown into our Frisbee."
It is obvious that Moxy Fruvous comes from a theatrical and musical background. The band's performance was a terrific blend of both music and acting, with humor serving as the constant between the two. Their songs were ingrained with satire and commentary. The topics of their songs ranged anywhere from couch potatoes or right wing activism to video rental stores.
Mike Ford discusses the bands relationship with satire, "One of the ways we got started, we kept getting requests from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to do topical songs in the style of Loudon Wainwright and Tom Lehrer about a specific issue that was happening. That gave us a real song writing training. We added the ballads we were writing and then we always want to rock it up a bit, " Ford continues, "Things still come up. The Ontario Government is a very "Thatcher-like" and we were part of a very large protest movement in the Spring. We wrote some songs about that. And even sometimes when we are writing songs that sound like pop songs, we try to throw a little curve in the words. When you listen to the lyrics, it is almost a take off on pop lyrics."
When Moxy Fruvous weren't singing they were cracking jokes about Vermonters, Club Metronome's ominous setting, and their experience crossing the Canadian/Vermont border (apparently its easier to cross the border into Vermont than New York or other US border states). As the band made their way through their repertoire, they always tried to throw some local trivia and facts into their lyrics. By making references to Burlington and Lake Champlain, one could easily have mistaken the band members for native Burlingtonians rather than Canadians.
Ford explains Moxy Fruvous' familiarity with Vermont: "If we are in a town a few days, we talk to people about what is going on. It will make us sing certain songs. And sometimes we make up songs. It may be serious political stuff or jokes about the local pizza joint. Some people get embarrassed by it. We think it should be something more in music."
Ironically, the band's name was derived from local lore: "Anton Fruvous is the guy who initially discovered the monster in Lake Champlain. The creeping crawling thing. Moxy just implies the size of that discovery."
Moxy Fruvous claim songwriters like the Roches, Loudon Wainwright and Marshall Crenshaw as their primary influences. Due to this connection, the band spent the entire summer playing folk festivals. "That is where we find our strongest happening, because people are really open minded at these modern folk festivals, and a lot of them are all about songwriters. Radio isn't really about songwriters. Video TV is not about songwriters. We love that atmosphere. We definitely raise some eyebrows but we also bring in some young folks. If folk festivals just continued to be pickin' and grinnin' 60s style, sooner or later the audience would die out." Moxy Fruvous paid tribute to the great songwriters of our time by playing their own versions of Stevie Wonder's "Sign, Sealed, Delivered" and Elvis Costello's "Allison." They also paid tribute to one of the greatest lyricists of all time by encoring with their own hip-hop rendition of Dr. Seuss' "Green Eggs and Ham."
As you looked out at the audience, you could see some die-hard Moxy Fruvous fans who already knew the words to most of the songs. Simultaneously this fab four was creating a new fan constituency that night at Club Metronome. Hopefully, these guys will be back again soon.