Rock Is Back?

Tell it to Fountains of Wayne, trend boy

You know, we probably wouldn't have to be enduring all this "rock is back" critics' blather about the Hives/White Stripes/Strokes/Vines/Your Underachieving Dolls-Influenced Band Name Here if enough people had been paying attention to Fountains of Wayne, who have been with us for six years, rocking like the rock stars they are.

That's one of the signs of true rock-star mettle: rocking like a rock star even when there isn't a stadium full of audience to adore you. If you were one of the lucky ones who saw the Fountains when they flowed through the Galaxy three years ago, you know they were adorable: looking like rock stars, sweating charisma like rock stars, rocking like rock stars—and, like true rock stars and unlike all these frenetic poseur boys today, the Fountains rock in their very own particular way. Did I mention they rock?

Sure, they've got a bit of that garage-guitar, sweetly-haunting-dead-girlfriend-melody vibe of the Kinks and Lemonheads and may owe the slightest of noggin nods to the Ramones' antic head-banging, but from the first inebriated notes of "Radiation Vibe," you knew this tired world still had new possibilities, that there was some fresh fun yet to be eked from rock's half-century of simplicity.

That and the other songs from their 1996 debut album, Fountains of Wayne, were all written in a week and sound like it in the very best way. They are like fireworks that stay etched on your retinas. I'm in a Fountains of Wayne reverie this very minute, recalling the lyrics: "Baby, baby, c'mon, what's wrong/It's a radiation vibe I'm groovin' on."

A second album, 1999's Utopia Parkway, is no less luminous, but these are dark times, wherein the wildness of American culture has been reduced to a factory farm, with little space between the swill and the swine for anything original to push through. The Fountains are touring now—with a stop at Anaheim's House of Blues Saturday—with a new album in the can but not on the shelves. The last I heard, they aren't on a label anymore. This, at a time when critics are felching up the Hives' jive-ass rock? Fie! Fie, I say!

Fountains of Wayne—named for a roadside fountain and statuary emporium in Wayne, New Jersey (as seen in The Sopranos)—is comprised of songwriter/multi-instrumentalists Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger (who is also in the marvy indie-label band Ivy) and two other guys, with those two other guys now consistently being guitarist Jody Porter and drummer Brian Young (late of Seattle's Posies, another great and grievously overlooked band). Collingwood and Schlesinger have knocked about in various bands together since the '80s, including one called the Wallflowers (they subsequently sold the name to Jakob Dylan) and another, Three Men Who When Standing Side By Side Have a Wing Span of Over Twelve Feet, which outdid current critical darlings . . . And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead by eight syllables. How about that, Bob Hilburn, huh?

Just about the time they launched Fountains of Wayne, Schlesinger's "That Thing You Do!"—a bitchen evocation of early '60s pop rock—was picked by Tom Hanks to be the theme to his film of the same name. The song garnered an Oscar nomination, and it's now Broadway-bound, with Hanks' production company working up a stage version of the story.

The band has now written the theme for a new VH1 animated series titled Hey Joel, being prepared for 2003 airing, and will contribute two songs per episode to the show. Huzzah for them, though it's a sad state of affairs that TV programs do more to promote original music lately than the music industry does.

Wayne songs don't need TV. There are whole movies compressed in songs like the melancholy "Sick Day," or the melancholy "Laser Show," or the melancholy "Please Don't Rock Me Tonight." When you're not pogoing your ass off to the Fountains, you'll probably notice that they've got a bit of a melancholy streak going. Utopia Parkway is virtually a concept album built around the transitory nature of life's pleasures.

Try "Prom Theme": "We're running out of gas/The air is getting thick/The girls are feeling sick/We'll pass out on the beach/Our keys just out of reach/And then we'll say goodbye/Then we'll work until we die."

Or howzabout "Go, Hippie": "Big hippie, the day was so slow/And I can see you feel it, too/Sometimes you wish you knew karate/Oh, the things that you could do."

Art is long. Life is short. Fountains of Wayne sits on the roadside between the two, and they rock.

FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE PLAY WITH OK GO AND THE FRIENDLY INDIANS AT THE HOUSE OF BLUES, 1530 S. DISNEYLAND DR., ANAHEIM, (714) 778-2583; WWW.HOB.COM. SUN., 8 P.M. $13.50. ALL AGES.

 
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