Live Review: Fountains of Wayne with Nicole Atkins at Birchmere, Alexandria, VA – 8th August 2011

By on Tuesday, 16th August 2011 at 12:00 pm

Words and photos by Cheryl Demas

“The boys of summer”: New York’s Fountains of Wayne could have borrowed that moniker from Don Henley when they played the Birchmere on Monday night. Not only were many of the songs actually about summer, but they repeatedly introduced songs as “being about summer”, continuing the joke through the entire set.

The venue, which bills itself as “America’s Legendary Music Hall”, was full of framed memorabilia and families. The crowd was largely couples in their 40s and families with children. It was oddly dinner-theatre like, with an extensive menu that nearly everyone but I partook in. The audience was also replete with after dinner entertainment – from kid’s read-aloud books and handheld game systems to newspapers, Sudoku and smartphones. Lots of smartphones.

The night’s opener, New Jersey’s Nicole Atkins, played without her band. Equipped with the requisite jokes about her home state, she won over the audience with her easy stage presence. Singing both her own songs and a few covers, I thoroughly enjoyed her eight-song set full of soulful, complicated lyrics sung with her rich, nuanced voice. The highlight was when Atkins played a Cotton Mather cover ‘Monterey Honey’ that completely outstripped the original. Her vocal power and emotion transform this song into something worth paying attention to. Her friend Leah Fishman of Nouvellas was on hand for three songs in the middle and Atkins left us with a song called ‘The Tower’ – a song about endings. But surely it is not the end of Nicole Atkins; a troop of new fans was launched that night.

This second of two nights for Fountains of Wayne was billed as an acoustic show. I wondered just what that would mean, but founding member Adam Schlesinger clarified it when he quipped, “I’m still playing my electric bass, it’s just not plugged into an amp. It’s all just a technicality”. What it did include was both Chris Collingwood and Jody Porter on acoustic guitars and a lovely baby grand piano. It made for a set that was still full force but had an acoustic flavor. The piano was most lovely during the hit ‘Stacy’s Mom’, which shined a little brighter from the “acoustic” treatment given to it.

Fountains of Wayne lyrics are heavily laden with references to regular life and what must be many inside jokes between the songwriters Collingwood and Schlesinger. The band clearly does not take themselves too seriously; they have fun on stage with one another. The music is pure, shimmery pop, especially the bubbly ‘The Summer Place’ from their most recent release, ‘Sky Full of Holes’ just released in the UK on the 1st of August. The joy of the music, the summery tone, the sometimes silly lyrics and the sheer fun the band and audience were having gave rise to a Beach Boys comparison…though their music does not sound similar.

One of the best segments of the night was after Collingwood complained in the middle of one of their earliest hits ‘Radiation Vibe’ that it was hard to riff on an acoustic guitar. He then proceeded into classic “acoustic riffs” from Kansas’ ‘Dust in the Wind’, Yes’ ‘The Roundabout’, Steve Miller’s ‘Swingtown’ and Peter Frampton’s ‘Do You Feel like I Do?’, some of which included sing alongs. To the delight of fans, the band satisfied just about everyone by playing a broad range of songs spanning their entire career. As I left the venue, I heard people planning their next Fountains of Wayne show in the next city – loyal fans are what it’s all about and tonight didn’t disappoint them.

After the cut: set lists and more photos.

Nicole Atkins Set List:
Heavy Boots
Awaiting the Flood
Call Me the Witch
Monterey Honey
Maybe Tonight
Cry Cry Cry
My Baby Don’t Lie
The Tower

Fountains of Wayne Set List:
Please Don’t Rock Me Tonight
Bright Future in Sales
The Summer Place
Someone to Love
Red Dragon Tattoo
Richie and Ruben
Hey Julie
Fire Island
A Dip in the Ocean
Cold Comfort Flowers
It Must Be Summer
Radiation Vibe
Survival Car
Firelight Waltz
Valley Winter Song
Stacy’s Mom
Leave the Biker

Fountains of Wayne Photos:

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