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In a packed and happy Mohegan Sun Wolf Den Friday night, as Fountains of Wayne put on a clinic in how to craft and play power-pop songs, there were four people who seemed to have little interest in the proceedings.
Oddly, since the musicianship WAS so good, the four in question happened to be Jody Porter, Chris Collingwood, Adam Schlesinger and Brian Young - the members of Fountains of Wayne.
Despite a catalogue rife with sunbeam hooks and the sort of oft-hilarious storytelling and characters that suggest Damon Runyon if he grew up on Paul McCartney instead of Cole Porter - and that further suggest this is a really fun band to be around - Fountains of Wayne has never been a particularly raucous live band. Fair enough. The world already has Jim Dandy Mangrum and Lady Gaga, so no one's expected or wanted FOW to shoot lasers from their guitars or turn backflips or even wrap their sweaty arms around one another's shoulders in a group bow before the Big Encore Section.
As plenty of acts have demonstrated, you don't have to like each other to put on a great show, right, Mick and Keith?
This was different. Friday's performance, which packed 20 pretty wonderful songs into 75 minutes, was disconcerting because the four musicians not only didn't make eye contact with the crowd; they seemed to pointedly ignore each other, as well. There were a few light moments, particularly during an audience participation percussion-fest, or when Schlesinger or Collingsworth, eyes downcast, addressed the crowd in brief and dryly funny between-songs remarks.
Ah, well, FOW have been an on-again/off-again proposition for several years now, and it's to their credit that, however much "not-fun" they were having onstage, they played their asses off and delivered letter-perfect renditions of several fan favorites as well as some choice deep tracks. Which, in the end, is maybe what counts most.
As per the reality of life's actuarial tables, Fountains of Wayne come from a long stylistic tradition that includes honored antecedents ranging from Badfinger and Todd Rundgren to Cheap Trick, Big Star and The Babys.
Heady company, to be sure. But when FOW songwriters Schlesinger and Collingwood are at their best - in which they simultaneously make fun of pop culture and its inhabitants even as they care for them deeply - they make, with the sonic contributions of Porter and Young, some of the brightest pop music of our times.
One seriously hopes the apparent tension onstage - according to a friend who saw the band's show in Norwalk a week ago, the situation was very similar - is something temporary.
It would be nice to know there will always be a Fountains of Wayne.
"I've Got a Flair," "Little Red Light," "Denise," "Someone to Love," "No Better Place," "The Summer Place," "Richie & Ruben," "Valley Winter Song," "Road Song," "Fire in the Canyon," "Hey Julie," "A Dip in the Ocean," "Red Dragon Tattoo," Mexican Wine," "Radiation Vibe." Encores: "Cemetery Guns," "I-95," "Bright Future in Sales," "Stacy's Mom," "Sink to the Bottom."