Reviews

Fountains of Wayne: No Better Place

When your lead vocalist looks like he has somewhere better to be for half the set, you know you're in trouble.


Fountains of Wayne

No Better Place: Live in Chicago

MPAA rating: N/A
Label: Shout! Factory
US Release Date: 2009-03-03
Amazon
iTunes

No one will ever, ever doubt the pop mastery of Fountains of Wayne.

With one near-masterpiece (1999's Utopia Parkway) and a brilliant monster-hit under their belts ("Stacy's Mom", from 2003's Welcome Interstate Managers), Fountains of Wayne have always walked that fine line between being indie cult-heroes and commercial hitmakers, never fully giving in to either side despite having such nice things like bassist Adam Schlesinger's Oscar nomination in their arsenal ("That Thing You Do!" was true guilty-pleasure pop perfection, after all).

Yet cranking out classic studio gems is not the same as giving a thrilling live show, and as No Better Place painfully proves, Fountains of Wayne were never meant to be a proper touring concern.

Let's start with the staging. Though the house is packed and the stage is large, the band -- consisting of Schlesinger, vocalist Chris Collingwood, guitarist Jody Porter, and drummer Brian Young -- rarely make use of the giant stage they are afforded. Mostly, the band is standing on their marks and performing their songs ... and that's it. Though Porter does get his hippie-guitar groove on at times, the rest of the band is surprisingly lifeless and dull. Though the swooping crane shots try to convey some sense of excitement to the proceedings, the only thing they wind up panning across is a band that appears to be doing nothing more than going through the motions.

Worst of all, as a performer, Collingwood looks positively bored with his surroundings. Though his disaffected croon remains unaffected in a live context, the man just looks like he has somewhere better to be (which, given the group's quick exit from the stage after the show, wouldn't seem too far off the mark). The group doesn't really talk to the audience much, the notable exceptions being when they mention how they're about to play a rare B-side ("Janice's Party") and when they introduce their roadies-turned-percussionists for the peppy "Hey Julie". The only thing that's more disappointing than the lack of onstage chemistry is how the band doesn't offer any new arrangements, covers, or other surprises during their concert: if you've heard the song on record, then that's how it's going to sound when played live.

Given this laundry list of disappointments [which also includes the DVD's lone extra: a ho-hum mini-acoustic set of songs from the band's Traffic & Weather album (which was released after they taped this concert)], the band has one saving grace on which to fall back on: they are still incredible songwriters. The set-list for this show covers their first three albums quite thoroughly, ranging from well-known classics ("Radiation Vibe", "Stacy's Mom", "Mexican Wine") to fan favorites ("Maureen", "Bright Future in Sales", "Sink to the Bottom") to neglected-yet-stellar album tracks (show opener "I've Got a Flair", "Red Dragon Tattoo", "Survival Car"). Though fans may express slight grievances over other classics left off the set list (no "Troubled Times" or "I Want an Alien for Christmas"? C'mon!), the truth is that the No Better Place gives equal emphasis to all eras of the Wayne's career, making for a truly even-handed concert.

It's just a shame then that you walk away from your No Better Place viewing experience having learned nothing new about the band, the songs, or anything else for that matter. The group's sense of humor and gift for melody have made them endure for well over a decade at this point, and it would be great to see them crank out even more sunny power-pop as the years wear on. Let's just hope that all of their creative endeavors are studio-based from this point on, 'cos this whole "live performance" thing just isn't working out.

4

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Music

GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".

Music

Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".

Music

Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.