Last Thursday, the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton played host to the first show of Fountains of Wayne’s upcoming three-week North American tour. With Northampton’s own School for the Dead opening the set, it was truly a great night for lovers of power-pop.
School for the Dead, a Northampton-based pop-rock band, began the proceedings. Playing tight but playful songs with fantastic melodies and great hooks, they won over the audience fairly easily. Songs like “Photobooths” had a charming British Invasion, Beatles-esque influence, while the brilliantly titled “Jake and Kim Broke Up, Leave Me Out of It” had such cheeky lyrics that it was impossible not to enjoy.
The five-piece band could have easily played a longer set without making the crowd restless with anticipation, but ended their set after less than 35 minutes. Their unpretentious songs of love, school and awkward social situations fit the cozy and humble confines of the Iron Horse perfectly. For a rock show at such a small, intimate venue, the audience (which incidentally had probably the world’s highest concentration of men wearing berets per square foot) was unerringly polite and enthusiastic towards School for the Dead, contributing to the show’s great atmosphere.
At around 8:10 p.m., Fountains of Wayne took the stage and without hesitation launched into “A Dip in the Ocean,” off of their most recent album, “Sky Full of Holes,” released in July 2011. After a rollicking performance of “Mexican Wine,” off of the band’s 2003 album “Welcome Interstate Managers,” it became apparent that lead singer and guitarist Chris Collingwood’s gear was having numerous issues.
These technical problems would nag at the band for most of the first half of the show, leading for bassist Adam Schlesinger to joke at one point “we’re going to call this the Nothing Works Tour.”
During one particularly long break to fix equipment, Schlesinger conducted an impromptu “audience Q&A,” during which, at one crowd member’s request, the other three members of the band jammed a bit on the Knack’s classic power-pop hit “My Sharona.”
Despite these issues and some occasional signs of rust, such as when the band awkwardly fell apart during a passionate rendition of “Bright Future in Sales,” the atmosphere in the hall was always incredibly fun and light-hearted. The band invited two fans to accompany them on percussion for the acoustic “Hey Julie,” and dipped into a few deep, rarely-played cuts from their first, self-titled album.
Before one of these, “You Curse at Girls,” Schlesinger spoke of how the band would write down ridiculous titles to imaginary songs on napkins in West Village cafes. Then, they would attempt to write songs with these titles. Schlesinger joked that most of these titles were quite stupid, which Collingwood concurred with after they performed the song.
Once the band fixed all of their equipment problems, the show really kicked into high gear. The ballad “I-95” toyed with the heartstrings of the audience. “It Must Be Summer,” “Sink To the Bottom,” and “No Better Place” came one right after the other, giving the entire audience an incredible rush. After that brief but incredible increase in momentum, the band’s set came to a close.
The audience was hungry for more though, and after less than a minute, the band marched back on stage. Opening their encore with the beautiful ballad “Cemetery Guns,” the band kept the show’s incredible energy going. After a wonderful version of the acoustic “Troubled Times,” a highlight off of the band’s second album, “Utopia Parkway,” Collingwood and guitarist Jody Porter grabbed their electrics for two final songs.
The requisite performance of “Stacy’s Mom,” by far the band’s biggest hit, did not feel forced at all, and sent the already delighted crowd into spasms of ecstasy. Closing with a triumphant take on “Radiation Vibe,” the first song on the band’s first album, the band ended the show by coming full circle to the very beginning of their career.
Despite early technical problems and the occasional mistake, Fountains of Wayne played a spirited show that wonderfully showcased many of the highlights of their 15 year career. The hooks hit hard, the choruses were a blast and the band was having a ball. Delivering their catchy, well-written songs with an infectious energy, Fountains of Wayne put on a show for the ages.
Jackson Maxwell can be reached at email@example.com.