Monday, January 10, 2005

Folkskunde vs. The Moffatts

To tell the truth, I don't often attend performances of rock bands of any sort. I've been to two stadium shows (both at RFK Stadium in Washington), once for Paul McCartney and once for the Rolling Stones. In addition, I went along for the ride once to see Jackson Browne perform at the Meriwether Post Pavilion outside of D.C. (Fair Warning: As I'm obviously not a rock music critic, anything I say should be taken with a big grain of salt.)

Seeing Folkskunde's reunion performance last Friday night at the Starr Hill Music Hall in Charlottesville brought to mind the last time I attended such an event, almost six years ago at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. On that occasion, I saw The Moffatts, a brother-band from Canada, which was, in some ways, similar to Folkskunde.

Folkskunde's performance last Friday brought out a lot of teenage fans. Many familiar faces from the Live Arts Teenage Theatre Ensemble (LATTE) were in the audience. One difference: the fans in the Moffatts' audience back in 1999 were almost entirely teenage girls. Folkskunde's fandom seems pretty evenly divided between males and females.

It is my understanding that the Moffatts, as a group, have broken up -- due to "artistic differences." The four Moffatt brothers are pursuing solo careers. Similarly, the Folkskunde musicians are also trying out their solo chops. (I picked up a new CD recorded by bassist and guitarist Adam Smith entitled Teenage Girls & Medicine, available from Azurat Productions, PO Box 18, Montebello, VA 24464, as well as a compilation CD that includes Folkskunde numbers and solo performances from Smith and his Folkskunde colleague, Malcolm Perkins, available from

Like the Moffatts, Folkskunde offers performers who combine boyish charm with several varieties of edginess. (My friend, Tim Hulsey, suggested that each of the Folkskunde artists writes songs that represent a different sort of illicit substance: acid, 'shrooms, pot, coke, etc.) Adam Smith has a boy-next-door look belied by his heavy-metal-influenced grooves. Jacob Wolf has a dreamy, bohemian quality one usually encounters among students at small New England liberal arts colleges. Justin Wolf, who seems to be the front man for the group, has a certain Jim Morrison-style gregariousness. Drummer Tucker Duncan reminds one of the intelligent high school jock who plays music on the side. (Is it an accident that Duncan was the first to remove his shirt on stage last Friday, leading to screams of delight from the crowd?) Conner Lacy's propulsive music is counterbalanced by his quiet, intellectual look.

Folkskunde was preceded at Starr Hill by two opening acts. The first, Body for Karate, offers a lot of promise (although we only saw the end of their set). According to their publicity material, "Blind to all precedents, Body For Karate is held back only by natural law. Kazoo, phonograph, drums, bass, and ukulele are a few tools used to interpolate sounds of sixties mod rock, seventies glam rock, and eighties synth-pop. Ross, Cooper, Colin and Wade will deliver you an ever-changing circus of music that is refreshingly human." Body for Karate will be playing at Gravity Lounge in Charlottesville on January 16.

The middle act was truly awful. Luckily the band's name is unpronouncible, so you won't have to worry about hearing it anytime soon: TRMNSPRX. Oddly enough, Adam Smith plays in this band, too. Our advice: get out before it's too late, Adam -- you have too much talent to waste with this nonsense.

As soon as TRMNSPRX finished its set and Folkskunde was announced, you could feel a change in mood in the audience. They knew why they had come, and the moment had arrived.

Unfortunately, the Folkskunde set was far too short -- only about 50 minutes. For a band that does its best when it is jamming, this is a real loss. They tried to fit in as many numbers as they could within the time constraints, but it was clear they left the stage with the audience wanting more.

Let's just hope they have another reunion concert sometime this summer, when the Folkskunde boys return from their neutral corners.

Now, just for fun, let's look at what I wrote about The Moffatts in June 1999:

Meet the Moffatts
Rick Sincere
Metro Herald Entertainment Editor

The Moffatts returned to Washington Tuesday night after an absence of two years. Playing only one show at the 9:30 Club on V Street, N.W., the four brothers offered a set of more than one hour featuring songs from their latest album plus covers of familiar tunes. Big Orange Pop, a local D.C. band, opened the program.

For those not familiar with The Moffatts, the band consists of four siblings from Canada, -- the 15-year-old triplets Bob (drums), Dave (keyboards), and Clint (lead vocals, bass), as well as 16-year-old Scott (lead vocals, guitar). While the brothers have been singing and playing together since their preteen years, over the past four years or so they have transformed themselves from a bubblegum-country novelty act playing county fairs and The Nashville Network to a more hard-edged, rock band seen at adult venues like the 9:30 Club and on MTV.

The difference between the band's 1995 Polydor CD, The Moffatts, and their latest offering from Capitol Records, Chapter 1: A New Beginning, is palpable. The earlier record was cutesy and countrified. The boys' voices had not yet changed, so the lead vocals sounded like Dolly Parton on helium. Attempts to perform well-known songs, like the Lennon-McCartney "This Boy," turned out to be risible. No doubt in live performances, this cuteness -- oh, look at the little boys singing grown-up songs! -- was endearing. On CD, it simply did not work.

Since then, the band has grown up. Chapter 1: A New Beginning has a distinct Nineties sound to it. The new Moffatts have more in common with Nirvana (Scott's favorite band) and Barenaked Ladies (another Canadian band) than with their old, wind-up teddy bear selves. And in concert, The Moffatts prove themselves to be capable, skilled musicians whose voices have matured to the point that songs with an adult theme do not seem out of place.

The Moffatts are part of a long tradition of family acts in the music business, from the Andrews Sisters in the 1940s to the Everly Brothers in the 1950s, to the Cowsills of the 1960s and the Osmonds and Jacksons of the 1970s. (The Partridge Family, contrary to popular belief, was not a real family, although Shirley Jones was, in fact, the stepmother of lead singer David Cassidy.)

Comparisons will no doubt be drawn between the Moffatts and another brother act of the 1990s, Hanson. They will not go far. The Moffatts are the Anti-Hanson. The Moffatts are to Hanson what the Rolling Stones were to the Beatles. While the Hanson brothers play on their Tulsa-bred innocence and sing songs like "Mmmbop," the Moffatt boys conscientiously bring their sensuality right to the surface, ready to erupt, and sing songs with titles like "Misery." The Moffatts are dangerous; Hanson is vulnerable.

Comparisons might also be made to "boy bands" like 'N Sync, the Backstreet Boys, Five, C Note, or 98 Degrees. The Moffatts are not a "boy band." For one thing, they play their own instruments on stage. They were not artificially created, choreographed, and costumed. They write their own music and lyrics. Those other bands are indistinguishable if you hear them on the radio. They have no musical identity. Not so with The Moffatts. The proof is this: You can play air guitar to The Moffatts' music. Who could imagine doing that with a Backstreet Boys number?

In their performance at the 9:30 Club, the Moffatts proved all this and more. They obviously understood their audience, which was made up primarily of middle-school girls. The adults in the room were mostly the girls' parents, although at least a few unrelated music aficionados were also present. The boys acknowledged this mix in at least one number they covered, Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama," which got both the kids and their parents singing along. (The Baby Boomers in the balcony really swung to this one.) The other covers -- to tunes by Lenny Kravitz and Blur -- were also well-received.

But it was clear that the fans crowded near the stage had already bought and memorized The Moffatts latest CD, because they were singing and swaying along to music that has just barely hit the airwaves. (One song, "Until You Loved Me," comes off the soundtrack of a recent movie, Never Been Kissed.) The best number of the evening by far, though, was the encore rendition of "Misery," in which each Moffatt was allowed to shine in a solo turn. Bob's drum solo was electrifying, and Scott and Clint played "dueling banjos" on guitar and bass to the delight of everyone. The number was considerably longer than it is on the album -- most of their other songs that night were radio-play length, which was somewhat disappointing -- increasing its intensity by a magnitude.

All the boys were obviously having fun on stage. They still seem a bit uncomfortable with between-song patter, but what words they had to say were easily falling on friendly ears. Dave, the keyboardist, was suffering from a cold, so at times he appeared distant and distracted, but his energy level -- like that of his brothers -- seemed undiminished.

This is the Moffatts' first U.S. tour as a serious rock band. They are probably better known overseas and in Canada than they are in this country. (I have seen them on TV in England, but so far not here.) Chances are they will be much better known, and better appreciated, at the end of the summer. The fact that the group has been signed by Capitol Records -- the same label that gave us Frank Sinatra and The Beatles (Clint, Bob, and Dave's favorite band) -- shows that The Moffatts are growing artistically. It will be interesting to see how far they have spread their wings when they next return to Washington -- which, one would hope, will be sooner rather than later.

The Moffatts left Washington for New York, where they were to tape a "Sally Jesse Raphael Show," and their next few concerts will be in Owensburg and Louisville, Kentucky, as well as in Boston and Toronto. They will be singing the Canadian National Anthem at the Major League Baseball All-Star Game in Fenway Park on July 13. Perhaps most exciting, they will be celebrating the turn of the Millennium by performing on a cruise ship in the Antarctic Ocean during the last few days of December 1999 and the first few days of January 2000. For more information on the tour and other appearances, visit [Editor's note: This URL is no longer valid. -- RS].

Future acts scheduled to play the 9:30 Club include Girls Against Boys, Kula Shaker, Jamiroquai, Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, The Cult, Luscious Jackson, and Foxy Brown. For more information, call the concert line at 202-393-0930, or visit the club's web site at

Follow-up: Wondering whatever became of the Moffatts -- it's really a shame their act did not take off in the manner of some of the other bands mentioned in the article above, because their talent made them more deserving of attention than many of the others -- I found this article on ChartAttack ("Your Canadian Music Source"), which reported:

We haven't heard much from The Moffatts since they went into hiding in late 2001. While Dave Moffatt has been taking a break from the band circuit, brothers Clint, Bob and Scott have been busy with new musical projects.

Scott has been occupied with his emo-esque band The Boston Post, which recently played an impressive show at the New Music West Festival in Vancouver. Meanwhile, Clint and Bob have been busy with Hidell, the band they've formed with guitarists Paul Cimolini and Christopher Ainsley. Hidell (pronounced "High-dell") is the most significant project to come out of the Moffatt camp since they broke countless female hearts with their 2001 break-up.

So there you go. Perhaps someday we'll read about how Folkskunde "broke countless ... hearts with their 2005 break-up." We'll wait, we'll see.

Further Update: On the night I saw The Moffatts perform in 1999, as I noted above, we were told that Dave Moffatt "had a cold" and thus was unable to meet the group's fans afterwards. (Bob, Clint, and Scott all formed a receiving line at which they signed autographs and chatted with fans. I have all three of their signatures on an 8-by-10 photo of The Moffatts, which sits on top of a shelf in my home.)

Perhaps there's an explanation beyond "having a cold". Perhaps Dave preferred to avoid his overwhelmingly female fans. I found this itemwhen curiosity drove me to it: I couldn't figure out why so many people were finding my blog through Google and Yahoo searches with the terms "dave moffatt gay." (Never "clint moffatt gay" or "bob moffatt gay" or "scott moffatt gay.") So I did a search on my own and here is what turned up (I can't vouch for its authenticity, because the Winnipeg Free Press archives are not easily accessible on line, unless you subscribe to the newspaper):

Ex-teen idol comes out, moves into 'Peg
Thu Aug 19 2004
winnipeg free press

WINNIPEGGERS have another well-known musician living within their midst: Dave Moffatt, former lead singer of teenage brother act The Moffatts.

Originally intending to study at the University of Winnipeg, the 20-year-old former Juno Awards host quietly moved here last month and intends to spend most of his time writing new music.

He also has a gig at downtown gay club Desire, where he hosts a karaoke night for five successive Fridays, beginning Aug. 27.

"I've wanted to do something like this for a while. Karaoke is so much fun," says Moffatt, who is friends with Desire co-owner Sam Colosimo.

He doesn't think any of the teenage girls who erected shrines to his former band will be devastated by the news.

"I don't think so," he laughs. "I'm out and cool with it all. Although it was never said, I think most of our fans knew when I was in the band." Dave says the other Moffatt brothers are continuing to make music on their own. His own plans include becoming a chef and more ambitiously, finding his way around Winnipeg's confusing downtown.

"I'm figuring it out. It's been a month, but I'm still getting lost."

So do many lifelong Winnipeggers, Dave. Welcome to town.

I'd be eager to find out if anyone can confirm this report -- a message from Dave Moffatt himself would be the best way to verify whether it is genuine. (I also found a lengthy discussion on the topic on a message board on, but it seemed too much like unsubstantiated gossip.) I checked the Club Desire web site, but turned up nothing (though it looks like an interesting place).

In the meantime, the fantasies of thousands of The Moffatts' gay fans are being pushed into overdrive.

Still More (!) News on Dave Moffatt: Someone at the Usenet newsgroup posts this item from today's Winnipeg Free Press:

Pop singers join Miss Saigon cast
By Bartley Kives
The Winnipeg Free Press
Sat Jan 22 2005

TWO former teen idols living in Winnipeg are making the jump from the concert arena to a different kind of stage.

Ex-Moffatts singer-keyboardist Dave Moffatt and Rob James of McMaster & James have joined the cast of Rainbow Stage's Miss Saigon, the musical update of Madame Butterfly set in Vietnam. Moffatt and James will play U.S. marines, Viet Cong soldiers and Broadway hoofers as part of the ensemble cast of the Rainbow Stage production, which begins a three-week run at Pantages Playhouse Theatre on Feb. 22.

Both musicians filled a couple of last-minute casting holes, despite the absence of previous experience in theatre. "They're newbies," says director Richard Hurst, who was impressed by their auditions. "It might be a bit of a stretch for them up there, but being in front of an audience is being in front of an audience. They both have terrific voices." Moffatt has been living in Winnipeg since July, originally moving here with the intention of going to school....

Interesting that the director of this production of Miss Saigon has the same name as my long-ago ex-boyfriend, Richard Hurst. Despite that Richard's onetime fascination with things Canadian, I'm certain this is not the same person. (U.S. government lawyers tend not to give up their jobs and leave the country to become musical theatre directors, do they?)

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Anonymous said...

TRMNSPRX is actually my favorite local band these days. Once their singer quit and took his octavier with him, the great musical genius of the other members could be expressed fully in what is some of the best instrumental music I have ever seen.

-Cooper, Body for Karate

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Justin-Perpetua said...

strangely enough, I have heard quite a bit about this post concerning the last Folskunde show. People were always asking me if i had read it, and if i approved of the different member descriptions. seeing as how i was in the band, that was hard to say, especially concidering the fact that a reunion show was probably a bad idea for moral even though it was pretty fun to do.

at any rate, you should spread the word: we are reuniting for shows this summer and a full length C.D. this plan is not for sure, and it may end up that it doesn't happen at all, but hopefully it all works out. we'll keep everyone posted, in some fashion.

justin wolf