Fountains of Wayne Photo credit: Yuki Kuroyanagi
OK Go Photo credit: Irene Tien
The thing about OK Go, at least in my experience, is that there's really no need to seek them out, because they're everywhere. In the past year, this young Chicago-based band have parlayed a gig as the house band for National Public Radio's This American Life into an appropriately upwardly mobile career trajectory. I'd bet you very few other rock bands can brag of getting featured both on NPR's Marketplace and in a football video game (the sofa jock's wet dream, Madden 2003) in the same six-month period. And it's not just this weird high culture/low culture combination marketing strategy that has me bemused. It's that every time I go out these days, these overachievers are shoved in my face -- OK Go stickers plastered all over clubs their fans have blitzed, OK Go free promo CDs piled outside record stores, OK Go press material slipped into the free papers I read, OK Go opening up for my favorite bands. And when I stay in, there's still no relief -- it's OK Go appearances on late night talk shows, OK Go videos and commercials on MTV2, even a prominent OK Go feature on the one day I decide to peruse the newspaper in the musical backwater of my childhood hometown of Kalamazoo, Michigan. It's enough to drive a hype-fearing girl a little crazy.
But, annoyed as I am by their omnipresence, I can't really actively dislike OK Go. Seeing how these boys operate in person, it's clear that their success cannot simply be chalked up to rich parents or an overzealous publicity team. OK Go really work it live -- they're jumping up and down, they're thanking the audience left and right, they're cracking jokes, they're hawking the merchandise. And their songs really are catchy as heck. OK Go's extreme extroversion and pleas for audience love may be too much for this introvert's taste, but I can see why others find them rather charming.
Fountains of Wayne, the headliners, are their manic openers' mirror image stage presence-wise. When they come out, they greet the audience with a sardonic smirk rather than open arms. (And, frankly, who can blame them for being blasé -- they're playing for a couple hundred people in a basement-level club on a darkened Detroit street on a frigid Wednesday November night months before they have any new saleable "product" to push -- I wouldn't be too thrilled if I were them either.) As they work through a quick set of favorites from their two released albums and new material from their upcoming third, they're pretty much all business. Well, except for chiding people for bouncing up and down on the hard club floor too enthusiastically and tossing a few barbs at the youngsters calling out various silly avowals of adoration or wearing T-shirts with ironic sayings.
That's fine with me. I don't need to cuddle up to my rock stars. Having waited three long years for this band to finally release another album after the gorgeous Utopia Parkway, I came to this show mainly to hear Fountains of Wayne's new songs and receive assurance that songwriters Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger haven't lost their pop Midas touch during their too-long absence. I got what I came for.
The old songs played on this night are mainly the cream of the crop from 1996's Fountains of Wayne and 1999's Utopia Parkway, with fan favorites like "Radiation Vibe", "Leave the Biker", "Red Dragon Tattoo", and "Troubled Times" strategically woven in amongst the newer material. The new songs mostly fit what could be considered the standard Fountains of Wayne mold -- poppy, witty, chockfull of pop culture and geographic references, and laced with sweet nasally vocals from Collingwood and semi-rockin' riffs from the rest of the band. "Hackensack" revisits the Tri-State geography obsession and nostalgia for days of yore so prominent on Utopia Parkway. "Bright Future in Sales" features angst about living a dead-end life à la "Sick Day". "Mexican Wine" and "Valley Winter Song" show off wacky titles and catchy choruses. The final song of the night, "Supercollider", somewhat bizarrely recalls "classic" Oasis, but that's definitely not a bad thing in my book, enthralled as I am by the Gallagher Brothers (1994-1996 incarnation). Fountains of Wayne play for a little over an hour, then call it a night and disappear backstage. For some this might be considered a disappointingly abrupt end to a long-awaited show, but I'm pretty satisfied. And luckily for those a little more emotionally needy than me, the guys from OK Go are still working it -- standing at the exit doors, pleading with folks to sign up for their mailing list, hugging each fan that comes up to them, and promising to catch everyone next time.
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