by Marshall Ward, Echo (Kitchener/Waterloo), June 20, 2002
After a five-year hiatus, The Pursuit of Happiness has reformed to play three shows this summer. As front man for the band, Moe Berg is taking a short break from writing fiction to prepare for dates that include The Foundation in Barrie, the legendary Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto, and the much-anticipated show at the Fiddler's Green Irish Pub in Cambridge.
For fans in southern Ontario, this is a rare opportunity to see not only one of the most inventive and honest lyricists in pop music, but one of Canada's biggest indie-music success stories.
While vacationing in Cuba this past February, I had the unexpected pleasure of sitting down with Moe Berg for a few glasses of red wine at the all-inclusive resort we both stayed at in beautiful Cayo Coco. Rock'n'roll tales of touring the globe, seeing Tom Jones live from the front row in Las Vegas, and the story of a phone call from Duff McKagan (Guns'n'Roses) proposing a songwriting collaboration kept me listening for hours.
As I shared my memories of seeing his band perform live many times in the early 90s, closing one of the shows with a lightning fast rendition of Black Sabbath's "Paranoid," the soft-spoken Berg mentioned no plans to reform The Pursuit of Happiness at that time. However, exactly four months later, I find myself speaking with Berg once again - this time about the recent reunion of his band and their upcoming concerts.
"For about a year we talked loosely about maybe doing a show in Toronto just for fun," says Berg. "We never technically broke up, but I think we were waiting for something from outside the band to finally get us back on stage.
"I got married and my wife [Laura] never got to see the band play back in the day. There's an excellent fan website [www.tpoh.net] and Laura asked the webmaster to ask visitors if they'd come to a reunion gig - I guess that was the last kick in the butt that we needed."
As the lead vocalist and guitar player for The Pursuit of Happiness, Berg summoned the same lineup he performed with last - Kris Abbott (guitar, vocals), Brad Barker (bass), Dave Gilby (drums) and Renee Suchy (vocals). The Pursuit of Happiness are encouraging concert-goers to check out the fan website if they want to request any songs for the show.
"We'll be definitely taking suggestions into account when writing up the set list," says Berg. "Suffice to say, we'll be playing the so-called hits and fan favourites as well as a couple that we in the band like. It'll be a healthy cross section of tunes from all six of our CDs, including Sex and Food: The Best of TPOH."
Hardcore fans may also want to get lined up early on the night of the shows. Not only has it been several years since The Pursuit of Happiness performed live, but there are no guarantees of any future performances. As a result, Nash Cohen, owner of the Fiddler's Green Irish Pub in Cambridge is overwhelmed by the ongoing demand for reserved tickets.
"This is unbelievable," remarks Cohen. "I'm getting tons of email and phone calls from everywhere, people wanting to know about the show. I've received about 12 emails from fans in the U.S. wanting tickets - Washington, New York. It's amazing. I never get email."
Having lived in Toronto since 1985, it's not surprising that Berg's choice of live venues are all within an hour and a half of one another. For fans coming in long distance, there's an opportunity to see three shows in three nights with Berg's hometown being the finale.
In speaking with him on the phone from his apartment, I questioned his reasons for staying in Toronto all these years.
"I guess I'm just very comfortable here," says Berg. "One of the things that's great about Toronto is it doesn't necessarily reflect what's popular everywhere else. Take the music industry for example - I remember travelling a lot in music and I'd go to Los Angeles all the time when my career first started out and every band in L.A. looked like Poison. Then I'd go back the next year and every band would look like Guns'n'Roses, then the next year it was the Red Hot Chili Peppers, then Nirvana. That's what makes Toronto so great. There's not really a homogenous music scene. There's not as much bandwagon-jumping here as there is in other places. I remember going out on the road and every opening act was a sonic replica of Soundgarden. I think Toronto has a very diverse art scene - not just in music but in all the arts."
Before establishing himself in Toronto, Berg had toiled around his native hometown of Edmonton, playing in post-punk bands like The News, Troc 59, Facecrime and Modern Minds for over a decade. With such a dense body of work behind him, I asked Berg about his take on The Pursuit of Happiness's inclusion in the chapter "Punk, Politics and Poetry" in the book Have Not Been the Same: The CanRock Renaissance (ECW Press).
"I was happy that we were portrayed in such a positive light - that part of it was gratifying," recalls Berg. "What's interesting is there was nothing particularly political about what we did. Some people tried to find that in it, but we were essentially a pop band. When I lived in Edmonton, my first bands are credited with being the first punk bands out of that area. But we were more like the punk bands of today - we weren't hardcore, we probably sounded like Green Day - but this was more than 20 yeasr ago.
My early bands along with The Pursuit of Happiness were playing pop songs, but we were playin' them really fast and loud with a lot of aggression. I guess that's probably why we were put in that chapter."
His 1998 solo debut, Summer's Over, along with his published collection of short stories titled The Green Room are recent examples of Berg's diverse and prolific life work. With his well-crafted clever lyrics and need to put on a good live show, Berg's focus this week is on returning The Pursuit of Happiness to the stage for the three concerts in Barrie, Toronto and Cambridge. Delivering their special brand of metallic '70's power-pop and sexual politics, The Pursuit of Happiness plan to unleash the fierce high-energy performance that fans have been waiting five long years for.
Since The Pursuit of Happiness toured last, Berg has continued to exercise his multidisciplinary craft as a daily ritual. Even in the tropical splendor of Cuba, I often saw Berg off in a corner of the resort writing diligently in a notebook. Whether it be playwriting, production work, journalism, or his ongoing works of fiction, Berg is a rare kind of Canadian artist who can survive as an artist, and on his own terms.
Before our conversation ended, I asked him about his future plans as a musician with regards to songwriting, performing, and The Pursuit of Happiness.
"I've just started writing songs again after about two years of abstinence. We won't be performing anything new, however," concludes Berg. "There's no other shows planned for TPOH, so if you want to see the boys and girls again or for the first time - this is your chance."
2002 © Dynasty Communication Inc.