Happiness Sets Heads Bobbing

review of live show at the Concert Hall, Toronto, April 16, 1993

by Alan Niester, Globe and Mail, April 19, 1993

Call it the Bob-O-Meter. If The Pursuit of Happiness singer/guitarist Moe Berg needed to determine just how well his band was going over at the Concert Hall Friday night, all he needed to do was check the heads in the area closest to the stage. If those heads were fairly static, Berg would have realized that he needed to pick up the pace a little. However, if they were bobbing up and down like super-charged basketballs, Berg knew he was on the right track. For much of this performance, Berg and company were scoring 9.9s.

The Pursuit of Happiness has always been what used to be called a singles band. Despite the fact that the quintet has three albums under its belt (Friday's appearance was actually intended to introduce material from the new Downward Road album), it has always been best known for a number of key singles. Typically, these songs are short (usually clocking in at the three-minute mark), lyrically clever, and wrapped around a tight, memorable melodic hook. Not surprisingly, it was these numbers (such as Hard to Laugh, She's So Young, Cigarette Dangles and, of course, I'm An Adult Now) that scored highest with the crowd, creating waves of exuberant pogoing from the moshers down front.

Much has been made of the fact that Berg himself is one of the more inspired lyricists working in the pop idiom. Sharp-witted and insightful, his songs usually centre on matters sexual (or as he noted to the crowd, "sex, sex, sex, sex, sex, sex, sex, sex...."). But his dry wit is best enjoyed at home, in front of a stereo, lyric booklet in hand. In a concert setting, Berg's vocals are apt to be lost in the waves of rhythm and guitar. Live, what comes through best are the catchy, Todd-Rundgren-inspired melodies of such numbers as Nobody But Me (not be confused with the old Human Beinz hit) and Forbidden World, or the patented vocal harmonies from backing singers Kris Abbott and Rachel Oldfield. Stripped of the innuendo, sexual and otherwise, TPOH comes across as a late sixties/ early seventies type of hit-making machine, a modern day version of The Grass Roots or The Turtles.

Copyright 1993 Globe Information Services

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