I had the opportunity to catch the Crash Test Dummies the other night at Jammin’ Java – a cool little coffee house/restaurant/bar. Best known for Brad Roberts’ distinctive bass baritone voice, they had a few pretty big hits including “Mmm mmm mmm mmm” and hauled in 14 Grammy nominations in the 90’s. Then a number of band members left to pursue their own projects and Roberts took a few years off. As in six.
But they’ve got a couple of new albums out now. You can hear sounds from both on their website – scroll down to the bottom to see what’s playing. Oooh La-la is a new studio album with Brad Roberts and Ellen Reid from the original lineup, and a whole host of other musicians, described by Roberts as “very accomplished, high-priced players and arrangers have volunteered to play on it for free, just because they think it is extremely unique”. And it is pretty unique; and good, I think – well worth the price. The other album is a collection of demos Roberts dug up from 1996-7 – recordings rejected by their recording company – called “Demo-litions.” When I chatted with Roberts after the show, he said he was curious what people would think of it. Personally, I think it’s certainly interesting and has its charms and a couple of good melodies, but some of the tunes are a bit tricky to relate to, and…strange. Maybe it’ll grow on me, but for now I’ll say that Demo-litions is probably of interest to die-hard fans and collectors, but likely not of general interest. Do have a listen on their web site – Oooh La-la is definitely a keeper.
So what about the show? I’ll say up front that one of the things I like most about CTD is the strong bass and beat on “God Shuffled His Feet”, and I was a bit concerned when Roberts and Reed stepped on stage with only a guitarist (Stuart Cameron). They led off with the track “God Shuffled His Feet”, which didn’t really “work” for me without the bass, and Roberts had a bit of trouble with pitch here and there. But once they had worked out the kinks in this first song, things went much better. They slowed down (it seems to me) some of their tunes, and Cameron did a great job adding a more melodic, pensive mood that was more appropriate to the bassless, drumless sound. In a couple of cases, the “acoustic” version actually worked more for me than the original. Check out “Playing Dead”:
In addition to the variety of music which drew from all of their albums, Roberts made the show all the more enjoyable and personable with a generous amount of joking and banter between songs. Roberts’ storytelling and jokes appeared spontaneous and unscripted, and at times he had the audience rolling with laughter – at one point even making light of the amount of time his warm-up act, Rob Morsberger, had spent talking, while he himself did his best to outdo Morsberger. Somewhat self-deprecating at occasionally a bit on the raunchy side, Roberts shared with the audience the Legend of Why His Voice is so Deep:
All in all it was an excellent show. I’m not sure how Jammin’ Java manages to make ends meet with about a hundred or so of us paying 17 bucks each (and that included a warm-up act), but I suppose a bassist and a drummer would have run us another ten bucks apiece. Once I got used to the stripped down sound I enjoyed the evening and didn’t miss them a bit. I wish the Crash Test Dummies all the best in their comeback. Oooh La-la is an excellent start.
And the encore? They started with “Androgynous”, followed by Ellen Reid joking with audience members and singing a solo piece, and then…you know it: