Fountains of Wayne / Manchester University

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The Independent Culture
They're good. There's no doubt about that. Clever, tuneful and, when you can hear their jokes, funny. All the things you ordinarily find lacking in other pop groups. All the things you might complain about. So why aren't Fountains of Wayne a dream come true? Why do you leave the venue not ever wanting to hear them again? Why do you wake up the next morning with their choruses joy-riding around your head? And why do you want to kill them for it?

Singer Chris Collingwood and multi-instrumentalist Adam Schlesinger look like they might have been the kind of kids who bunked school every day and still got straight As. Without cheating. Their songs have more hooks than a tackle box, full of smug middle eights and top of the class chord changes. With a disciplined pick-up band of US indie notables - Jody Porter on guitar and Brian Young at the traps - songs are dashed off like there's nobody here. Everybody looks like they have a headache and you'd have more chance of a smile at a state funeral. Heads lean to one side during just-so guitar solos. Everything is, like, rilly cool. At one point, Adam Schlesinger looks like he may well be asleep, lost in a world of secret ennui. About half an hour into the set, it's clear we can expect no scissor kicks.

The single, "Radiation Vibe", sounds better than everything else. Hey, but that doesn't mean everything else is no good. The pogoers in the audience go wild. Collingwood tries his best not to catch anyone's eye while they are enjoying themselves. I think it's during this song that a chunk of ZZ Top's "Sharp Dressed Man" is quoted. Picking up the mood of the evening, we all smile to ourselves making sure not to point out the joke to anyone else.

The group and their apologists have claimed a whole lineage of timeless pop as their heritage - Beatles, Beach Boys, Big Star, Raspberries, Shoes, even Cheap Trick for god's sake. Hey, that last one must be, like, some sort of joke. But sometimes Fountains of Wayne just sound like yet another American rock band unable to shake the shadow of the template that was Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" - like the rest, playing those songs that go quiet-noisy-quiet, fast-slow-fast, drawling like a heroin addict then screaming like a psychopath. Except that Fountains of Wayne don't scream as loud as everyone else. Uncool, dude.

They play most of their casually accomplished album Leave the Biker, "Please Don't Rock Me Tonight" which contains a chorus that sellotapes itself to your head, and "Joe Rey" which I shall probably find myself whistling absent-mindedly next year. They are all, like, rilly loud. This helps to alleviate the slightly saccharine nauseousness they induce while listening to the LP. But nothing here makes you want to shout about them. If the Fountains of Wayne were your mates and they got into a fight in a pub, you would undoubtedly slip out of the side door leaving them to fend for themselves. There is really nothing about them that makes you want to care.

I have to say that I was disappointed, dude. I expected the effervescence of the Monkees but saw that, if you took the Fountains of Wayne to a beach, they'd just complain about the broken glass. I have to confess that I spent the last half-hour of their show dreaming of things to wake them up. Like America bringing back national service and sending a heavy-lidded nation of Beavis and Buttheads to compulsory fitness classes policed by Henry Rollins.

The show was topped by a soporific tape of Astrud Gilberto. It was tailed by a tape of the Beach Boys. Obvious, perfect even. And just a little too cool, dude. John McCready