They might have more accurately billed this tour as Crash Test Dummies Unplugged, for the Canadian rock band, a quintet in its glory days of the early 1990s, was just a trio Thursday night. Still, the band was always basically a vehicle for the songwriting of singer/guitarist Brad Roberts, and their last couple of albums have been essentially Roberts projects that the band reformed to tour behind.
They might have more accurately billed this tour as Crash Test Dummies Unplugged, for the Canadian rock band, a quintet in its glory days of the early 1990s, was just a trio Thursday night during a Boston show. Still, the band was always basically a vehicle for the songwriting of singer/guitarist Brad Roberts, and their last couple of albums have been essentially Roberts projects that the band reformed to tour behind.
The band's latest album, and first in six years, “Ooh La La,” was released Tuesday, and this was the second date on an 18-city American tour. The touring threesome consists of Roberts, vocalist Ellen Reid and guitarist Stuart Cameron, the only instrumentalist.
Just as Roberts’ sardonic lyrics characterized the band’s best work, his wordy wiseguy persona colors the stage show, and his improvised song intros were frequently funny in a tart and cynical kind of way. At other times he was grasping for a point, and it seemed more music and less chatter would’ve been helpful.
The band, which began in the members’ hometown of Winnipeg, essentially went on hiatus for various solo work in about 2000, and one mention of that seemed to indicate Roberts is still a little bitter. Noting that the only exception to all the original members reuniting was Benjamin Darvill, Roberts made a remark about how thrilled he was to hear Darvill announce the band’s breakup before Roberts himself knew about it. Roberts is based in New York now, involved in assorted projects, and creating new Crash Test Dummies music either by himself or with producers, so he should be past those old issues.
THursday's 16-song set featured half a dozen tunes from the new album, and a bunch of the band’s best-loved old chestnuts.
The three members literally wandered out onstage before the two-thirds capacity house and began singing a lilting version of “God Shuffled His Feet,” the title cut from their best known album, from 1993. The blond, mini-skirted Reid’s harmonies with Roberts were exquisite on the new ballad “And It’s Beautiful.”
“You Said You'd Meet Me (In California)” was the night's most rocking tune, the kind of buoyant alt-pop the band thrived on. The black humor of 1999's “Just Shoot Me Baby” had people cracking up. Reid provided another haunting vocal on the new ballad “Put A Face.”
The comic cabaret feel of “Not Today Baby” led into a brisk run through “Afternoons and Coffeespoons” from '93. The band's 1991 hit “Superman's Song” was nicely transformed into a subdued, poignant ballad in the trio format, surely one of the night's highlights.
The band’s biggest hit, “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm,” was a delectable piece of pop, well delivered by Roberts' bass/baritone with Reid’s lustrous alto in sweet harmony.
The Patriot Ledger