album reviews

Fountains of Wayne
No Better Place: Live in Chicago
Shout! Factory (2009)

Bright Future in Sales: Fountains of Wayne, 'No Better Place: Live in Chicago'

As live videos go, Fountains of Wayne's new (and first) concert DVD, "No Better Place: Live in Chicago" (Shout Factory) is pretty meager: it's not timely (the show was filmed in October 2005), it has no surprising banter or spontaneous live moments, and the only extras are five in-studio acoustic recordings. And there aren't any of the features that make live films compelling: no behind-the-scenes moments, no band interviews, no music videos and no documentary showcasing the band's decade-long career.

As a concert, though, "No Better Place" is pretty spectacular: the band blows through one catchy song after another, flaunting its power-pop songwriting — it's a wonder Fountains of Wayne doesn't have more than one major radio hit to its name.

That skill is reinforced by regular shots of the crowd bouncing in rhythm and singing along. It's a bit gratuitous, for sure, but it's also nice to watch a concert audience actually enjoying the experience. Of course, they probably can't really help themselves: as sing-alongs go, it's nearly impossible to keep quiet on "Bright Future in Sales'" irresistible take on mid-20s ennui: "I'm gonna get my shit together / 'cause I can't live like this forever."

Besides the group's catchy melodies and uptempo rhythms, Fountains of Wayne's songs are compelling because of their subject matter: they capture ordinary sentiments inside somewhat extraordinary situations, with witty lyrical twists reminiscent of They Might Be Giants or the Barenaked Ladies. In "Mexican Wine," lead singer/guitarist Chris Collingwood recounts stories of a guy killed by a cell phone explosion and of another who lost his job for reading High Times. The song really comes together in the choruses, though, with bassist Adam Schlesinger's harmonies and the simple — and utterly relatable — couplet "I'll be yours if you'll be mine / I tried to change, but I changed my mind."

Of course, a few themes stand out when these songs are arranged out of album order.

First, these guys certainly enjoy invoking women's names: there's the ubiquitous "Stacy's Mom," of course, but there's also "Maureen," "Hey Julie," "Janice's Party" and "Denise." There's the unnamed woman who stars in "Sick Day" and an Annie who pops up at the beginning of "Valley Winter Song."

Second, alcohol plays a major role in many of these tunes; Collingwood even acknowledges that prevalence in his introduction of "No Better Place," but that doesn't stop his long list of references to the sauce: whiskey, whiskey sour, scotch-and-soda, Vodka martini and wine.

But the more important — and ultimately, enduring — theme in Fountains of Wayne's songs is human relationships, and the way the group captures the ups and downs is as smart and it is poignant. For example, among the details of a grade-school friendship in the charming "Hackensack" there emerges a longing for the hope and possibility of youth and the patient waiting for that special someone who might never return.

Even beyond the top-notch material, the band's performance is excellent: there's barely a flub here, and Collingwood's vocals — and the harmonies of Schlesinger and guitarist Jody Porter — are always spot-on. There might not have been enough of a reason to make this a video release rather than just a live CD, but "No Better Place" certainly presents an enjoyable performance.

Written by Express contributor Catherine Lewis

.: Originally published: 3 March 2009.
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