- The Washington Times - Friday, February 13, 2009

Fountains of Wayne took root in the mid-1990s when songwriters Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood began funneling the sounds of British pop into wry narratives about dead-end jobs and humdrum suburbia.

Although heavily influenced by the Hollies and the Beatles, the band paired its love for melody with a tongue-in-cheek mentality, simultaneously celebrating timeless pop music while steering clear of pastiche territory. Thus, songs about love were turned into sugary odes to a friend’s attractive parent (“Stacy’s Mom”) while others dryly celebrated the lure of consumer culture (“The Valley of Malls”) and high school football (“All Kinds of Time”).

Following the release of “Traffic and Weather” in 2007, Fountains of Wayne’s four members took a sabbatical to focus on separate projects. Guitarist Jody Porter, who joined the group during its first national tour, issued a solo album, and drummer Brian Young lent his percussion skills to various artists. Meanwhile, bassist Adam Schlesinger composed music for a Broadway musical, “Crybaby,” and subsequently busied himself with his own recording studio, where he produced material for bands including Dashboard Confessional and America.

“All of us keep busy outside of the band to different degrees,” Mr. Schlesinger says from New York City, where he lives with his family. “I’m keeping myself occupied — doing some writing, doing some production and just enjoying being home.”

Mr. Schlesinger’s current stay in the Big Apple will be short-lived, however. Fountains of Wayne recently completed an acoustic tour of the West Coast, and an eastern run is just around the corner.

“We’ve been playing fairly small rooms,” Mr. Schlesinger says of the recent shows, which took the band from Washington state to Southern California last month. “It’s been a lot of venues that we don’t normally see, and we had to rethink a bunch of songs to make them work in an acoustic format. It’s been fun for us to do something different.”

The acoustic shows also have enabled Fountains of Wayne to road-test several new songs, which the band hopes to include on a new album. Recording sessions took place in late 2008 and will resume after the tour, with the intention of issuing the completed record before year’s end. Audience reception to those new tunes, Mr. Schlesinger says, has been favorable.

“We’ve been playing four or five new ones a night, just to test them out. Most of our songs are originally on the acoustic guitar, so it’s not a stretch to adapt them to these shows.”

New selections include a driving, minor-key pop nugget titled “The Summer Place” and the midtempo “Cold Comfort Flowers,” which features lush vocal harmonies and piano arpeggios.

Could another “Stacy’s Mom,” the surprise hit single that revived the band’s sales in 2003, be in the mix?

Mr. Schlesinger doesn’t seem overly concerned — and given the band’s recent string of sold-out performances, neither do his fans.

Although Fountains of Wayne generally plays the 9:30 Club while passing through the District, the band will resume its acoustic tour Thursday evening at the Birchmere (3701 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria). Mike Viola, with whom Mr. Schlesinger co-wrote the Grammy-winning song “That Thing You Do” in 1996, will open the show. Tickets are sold out; doors open at 7:30 p.m.

Andrew Leahey

LaBelle is ‘Back’

When the show-stopping group LaBelle parted ways over artistic differences in 1976, fans were in mourning, thinking that was the end for one of the era’s hottest female bands.

The trio featured Patti LaBelle, Sarah Dash and Nona Hendryx and was known for its phenomenal voices, funky costumes and empowering lyrics. “Lady Marmalade,” one of its biggest hits, is still recognized by millions of pop-music lovers worldwide more than 30 years after its release.

Three years ago, though, the women of LaBelle — an outgrowth of the ‘60s girl group Patti LaBelle & the Bluebelles, which featured the trio along with former Supremes member Cindy Birdsong — put their differences behind them to cut a song written by Miss Hendryx and dedicated to civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks.

“We were able to put the past behind us because we are sisters and friends first,” Miss Dash says. “We realized that the music satisfied us as individuals, after all.”

Tonight, LaBelle appears at DAR Constitution Hall for Back to Now, its long-awaited reunion tour, which kicked off Dec. 19 at New York’s famed Apollo Theater. An Atlanta performance follows tonight’s concert, and some European engagements also are planned.

Reviews have been more than favorable — an indication that the women, all in their 60s, still can rock with the best of them.

“After listening to ‘Dear Rosa,’ we found we still had our sound,” Miss Dash says, noting that “even though we were apart, we still had projects that we worked on. We sang on Patti’s CD that earned her a Grammy, and Patti and Nona appeared in the movie ‘Preaching to the Choir.’

“The love and friendship were always there, but we had to wait to get back together because of Patti’s busy and rigorous schedule.”

Arguably the most famous member of the trio, Miss LaBelle, 64, continues to perform and also has become a successful entrepreneur with a line of wigs, cosmetics and cooking sauces.

“Onstage, she jokes that she has eight jobs,” Miss Dash says of Miss LaBelle while also pointing out the powerhouse vocalist’s ongoing battle with diabetes. “Sometimes onstage she’ll say that her sugar is dropping, and we have to cool it down for a moment,” Miss Dash says.

The group’s latest CD, “Back to Now” (Vanguard Records), features 10 tracks, including LaBelle’s spin on the Cole Porter chestnut “Miss Otis Regrets.” Several tracks were produced by rocker Lenny Kravitz, and other producers include Wyclef Jean and legendary R&B songwriters Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff.

“We’ve been graced with a great musical director, John Stanley,” Miss Dash says. “We go back to the arrangements of some of the old songs with the same voices, but our look now is more mature and appropriate.

“Nona is the only one who still can get into those old clothes.” Miss Dash says with a laugh. “We haven’t gone back to the feathers. We feel that in order to bring along our old fans, it’s best to give them who we are now.”

LaBelle takes the stage tonight at DAR Constitution Hall (1776 D St. NW, downtown) for its Back to Now Tour. Show time is at 8.

Edith Billups

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