I was working at Record Theatre in Buffalo when Canada’s Crash Test Dummies dropped what would prove to be their most commercially successful album, “God Shuffled His Feet.” This was 1993, at the height of what we might reasonably call the “first wave” of Canadian band mania in Buffalo as groups like the Tragically Hip, the Tea Party, the Pursuit of Happiness, Barenaked Ladies, Moxy Fruvous, the Rheostatics, Treble Charger, the Skydiggers, and the Odds enjoyed radio airplay, critical acclaim, and packed houses around border towns like ours.
Even in that climate, Crash Test Dummies stood out. We spun the record in the store, and customers would routinely inquire about “the guy with the deep voice singing that humming tune,” by which they meant the hit “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm.” The song was tough to resist, as hook-infused as it was, and singer Brad Roberts employed a gorgeously thick baritone, suggesting what it might’ve sounded like had Johnny Cash fronted a Canadian alt-folk-rock band. We had already become acquainted with the band via the hit “Superman’s Song,” released two years earlier, and somehow emblematic of the Gen X zeitgeist, via its memorable refrain “Superman never made any money/for saving the world from Solomon Grundy.” I mean, if even Superman was slaving away for peanuts, how bad were we supposed to feel about playing in bands and working for minimum wage?
“God Shuffled His Feet” was an anomaly – smart, commercial, folk-based, literary, funny, alternative, weird, lovable. Unbelievably, it sold more than a million copies in America, back when every copy counted. Even more unbelievably, that was 25 years ago.
No dummies, these Dummies – the band is marking the album’s 25th anniversary with a tour during which they’ll perform the whole album from front to back and pepper the rest of the set with other catalog faves. It stops in Buffalo for a show at 8 p.m. Jan. 18 in the Town ballroom (681 Main St.). I’m hoping the band plays the oft-overlooked gem “Keep A Lid On Things,” with its prescient line “Who put Whitey in the White House?/You did, baby, you did.” That tune is awesome.
Tickets are $32-$38 (Ticketfly.com).
When it comes to defining Americana, I take the broad view. Some might suggest that the unofficial genre classification implies folk or country music, a rootsy sound, and mostly acoustic instruments. They’re not wrong, but surely, any American roots music should fit the bill, and that includes soul, R&B, jazz, and maybe even hip-hop. Every time I’ve encountered the Wood Brothers, my conception of Americana has been stretched further. These guys have no problem moving between country balladeering, plaintive folk laments, earthy funk and eerie indie-soul within the same set. The band makes beautiful, deeply affecting music. If you’ve never had the pleasure, you owe it to yourself to catch the band live. You’ll get your chance when the Wood Brothers and Priscilla Renea perform at 8 p.m. Jan 22 in Town Ballroom (681 Main St., $25-$29, Ticketfly.com)