Fountains of Wayne
No Better Place: Live in Chicago
First Appeared in The Music Box, May 2009, Volume 16, #5
Written by John Metzger
Mon May 4, 2009, 02:30 AM CDT
Concert recordings from power-pop outfits are never easy to assemble. Removed from the intensity of a small theater or club, the music is left to stand on its own. Although bands try their best to replicate the arrangements they originally had created in the studio, the glimmer of perfection inevitably is tarnished by the inherent single-take ambience of a live performance. Fountains of Wayne is not immune to these difficulties, and as pleasant as the material on its new DVD No Better Place: Live in Chicago happens to be, it hardly serves as a replacement for the albums that already exist in the collective’s canon. It also suffers from many of the same symptoms that had plagued the ensemble’s early endeavors.
Considering that the bulk of No Better Place: Live in Chicago was recorded in October 2005, it isn’t surprising that Fountains of Wayne’s set was stuffed with material that was culled from its breakthrough endeavor Welcome Interstate Managers. Nevertheless, while the swooping, MTV-style visuals attempt to re-create the energetic atmosphere of the show, it’s impossible not to think that, at times, the group merely was bluffing its way through the performance. Fountains of Wayne rattled through 16 songs in under an hour, but after playfully injecting a snippet from Derek and the Dominoes’ Layla into its opening statement I’ve Got a Flair, the outfit quickly settled into a routine that felt rather perfunctory.
Nearly three-quarters of the way through the concert, Fountains of Wayne unveiled Stacy’s Mom, a song that remains its biggest hit single. Although, by all accounts, the group should have grown tired of the tune by this point, it instead served as the show’s turning point. The band parlayed the tune’s Buddy Holly-meets-The Cars motif into enough rocket fuel to propel the rest of its performance. Subsequent cuts, such as Bright Future in Sales, Maureen, and Survival Car, were delivered with the adrenaline-soaked intensity of Cheap Trick and Weezer.
Between the release of Welcome Interstate Managers and Traffic and Weather, Fountains of Wayne reached a new plateau with its work. Lyrically, the band continued to explore the same themes of isolation and disconnection that it always had. However, the stronger narrative arcs of Traffic and Weather’s material conveyed greater emotional depth, while its arrangements grew more complex. Considering Fountains of Wayne’s evolution, now is as good a time as any for the outfit to reflect upon how it got to this point in its career. Sure enough, No Better Place: Live in Chicago provides an intriguing perspective on the matter.
Specifically, Fountains of Wayne’s five-song, acoustic performance from December 2008, which has been tacked onto the end of No Better Place: Live in Chicago, highlights just how far the group has come. Although the differences between these versions and their original incarnations are relatively minor, the music and the lyrics are more durable because they are more dimensional. In the end, newcomers would be better served by allowing Traffic and Weather to guide them to the outfit’s next destination, while Fountains of Wayne’s longtime fans will find that No Better Place: Live in Chicago is, if nothing else, a suitable concert souvenir.
Of Further Interest...
No Better Place: Live in Chicago is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2009 The Music Box