Let Me Entertain You/So Misunderstood: Crash Test Dummies @ World Cafe Live 5.11.10

Of all the bands who have flirted with mainstream success in the past few decades, Winnipeg’s Crash Test Dummies were certainly one of the most unlikely.  Their morose blend of traditional folk and chamber pop hardly jived with the big guitar sound of grunge that was becoming popular around the time of their debut, but they managed to have a few hits, both in Canada and the United States.  Over the years, the Crash Test Dummies have functioned as both a proper band and leader Brad Roberts’ solo project, with other members playing important (albeit increasingly ancillary) parts.  The Crash Test Dummies have released five albums (including a collection of Christmas songs and Oooh La La!, a new record for 2010) since Roberts was involved in a near-fatal car accident in 2000.  Despite this activity, the band has toured very infrequently since a number of original members have departed for their own solo ventures.  Now down to a core duo of Roberts and vocalist Ellen Reid, the Crash Test Dummies brought their iconoclastic material (both old and new) to the anxiously excited audience at World Café Live.

The Dummies’ set was a healthy mix of new and classic songs, with Roberts providing some very self-aware lampooning of concert etiquette.  He announced that he wanted to show off songs from the new record, but that he would get some business out of the way first.  The set then opened with the title track to 1993’s God Shuffled His Feet, which calmed anyone in the audience who was expecting the band to resist playing their bigger songs.  After a selection from Oooh La La! (the rather uncharacteristically upbeat “And It’s Beautiful”), Roberts handed the spotlight over to Reid for a cover of XTC’s “The Ballad Of Peter Pumpkinhead.”  A smattering of other new songs, including the jaunty “You Said You’d Meet Me (In California)” and the barroom swinging “What I’m Famous For,” joined songs from God Shuffled His Feet and Give Yourself A Hand very fluidly.  A few unexpected twists came during the show, such as Reid’s taking lead on “Swimming In Your Ocean,” and the noticeable lack of songs from the band’s debut.  The Dummies did make it to their two biggest songs, “Superman’s Song” and “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm,” which didn’t seem forced or insincere.  Roberts mentioned that he never wanted to be one of those musicians who refused to play their hits.  He reasoned that the songs made him lots of money, so he has no reason to dislike them.

For a band whose music is characterized by darkly humorous lyrics and gloomy instrumentation, the Crash Test Dummies were almost surprisingly entertaining.  Roberts’ in-between song banter found him cracking jokes at both his own expense and the audience’s, and he seemed particularly giddy throughout the whole show (a tweet I posted during the show might explain that more explicitly).  Even though he said he wasn’t going to, Roberts did eventually find himself kissing WXPN’s radiophonic ass, declaring the station to be a real gem for simply playing the music they enjoy.  Whenever I tell people that I am not generally a fan of ‘90s music, I always try to qualify that statement by saying that there were a number of bands that were around in the ‘90s that I do really like.  However, those bands made music that could’ve been made at any time, as they were not bound to the trends of that era.  The Crash Test Dummies are one of those bands whose limited success gave mainstream music fans a glimpse into how complicated and artistic pop music can be.  Those who were intrigued enough to listen continue to be rewarded by a band that still defies expectations and categorization.

Click the picture at the top of this post to see more pictures of the Crash Test Dummies in concert!!


~ by E. on May 12, 2010.

2 Responses to “Let Me Entertain You/So Misunderstood: Crash Test Dummies @ World Cafe Live 5.11.10”

  1. I enjoyed this show a lot more that I thought I would. Well-written review!

  2. I agree with joshpincusiscrying; once again a really eloquent, interesting review :-). I love stopping by to see what’s on your mind and playlist.

    Congrats on making it through another semester!! Hopefully I’ll catch you online sometime in the near future 🙂


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