Wryly penned songs blasted out as rock band pursues happiness

review of live show at The Diamond, Toronto, December 19, 1988

by Mitch Potter, Toronto Star, December 21, 1988

It wasn't the most adult move we've ever seen, but Moe Berg made it work.

Halfway through a headline homecoming concert Monday night at the Diamond, Berg called time out on the proceedings that involved his group, Pursuit of Happiness.

A mocking, ear-to-ear smirk lit up the prolific singer/songwriter's face. In his hands was a scathing review of the band's debut U.S. vinyl, Love Junk, courtesy of a southern Ontario campus paper. Berg began to read, relishing the good bits, picking out words like "sanitized, sterilized" and "castrated soul."

A capacity crowd roared disapproval. Berg shrugged it off, called the band to order, and blasted breathlessly through the rest of Pursuit's 90-minute set.

Berg hardly needed to defend himself. Those college-ink criticisms faded to dust in the wake of the night's 21 wryly penned songs, which once again reinforced the Pursuit of Happiness as a collection of big, clever kids with skewed but grown-up things to say.

Two years since "I'm An Adult Now" and its shoestring-budgeted video vaulted the fledgling band into tenuous Canadian renown, Edmonton native Berg has streamlined his sound, style and sensibilities into an undeniably arena-ready quintet.

There have been player changes, but the current and most chemically solvent Pursuit of Happiness goes like this: Berg, with his geekish blond tresses flanking a bespectacled face, holds centre stage with anti-machismo charm and a guitar-toting edge. Stage left has guitarist Kris Abbott anchoring with crisp bar-chord rhythm; stage right is the court of voluptuous, go-go churning vocalist Leslie Stanwyck.

Together, the front three deliver Berg'n'Bangles harmonies to the leader's refreshingly honest, direct and increasingly tuneful pop pennings. In the back, stocky bassist Johnny Sinclair paces methodically back and forth across the stage, periodically winking in time to the priceless metre of drummer Dave Gilby.

Monday's material alternated between guitar-based pop, with a heady push, and thrashier, backbeat-driven rockers, but almost without exception, Berg gave even the edgiest material a deliciously melodic pop hook.

Big winners of the night included the jangly "When the Sky Comes Falling Down," the intricately harmonized "Tree of Knowledge," and the blazing riff-rocker "Hard to Laugh" (all from Love Junk, an album that tackles romance from a dozen emotional viewpoints, some sad, some disturbing, some hilarious), along with the band's previous singles.

The bittersweet "Forbidden Fruit," meanwhile, highlighted a handful of unrecorded songs. The band returned for a three-song encore that featured producer Todd Rundgren's "Couldn't I Just Tell You," Tommy James' "Hanky Panky," and the seasonal toast, "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town."

Copyright 1988 Toronto Star Newspapers Ltd.

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