Lynn Canfield and Hot Tub Party (Borders Bookstore, Rockville MD, 6/22/99) -- For fans of Champaign-Urbana's legendary ethereal/dream-pop ensembles Area and the Moon Seven Times, the current ten-day tour led by singer Lynn Canfield and a three-piece she calls the Hot Tub Party is a rare chance to hear the music from those days performed by its author. Lynn is on a blitzkrieg tour of East Coast and Southeast Borders Bookstores, an unusual but apparently successful venue for her songs and the group's somewhat jazzier sound. In Area and m7x Lynn's principal counterparts were guitarist Henry Frayne (currently recording as Lanterna) and then-husband Brendan Gamble on keyboards. With Frayne's treated guitars and Gamble's echoey synthesizer lines, m7x came across as a Midwestern meeting-place of 4AD's dreamy artistry (This Mortal Coil, Red House Painters) and Projekt's gloomy ambient goth (Black Tape for a Blue Girl, Loveliescrushing). Canfield wrote most of the lyrics and sang everything, so her darkly alluring vocals were the band's most notable selling point. In Sunburnt, the final m7x record, and Shotgun Wedding, the ensemble she and Gamble formed in 1997-98, folk and jazz influences began to overtake the dreamy ambience that Canfield and Frayne had perfected over the course of four Area records (two of which have been reissued by Projekt) and the first two brilliant m7x records, the first self-titled and the second 7=49. Sunburnt was a pleasant but somewhat underwhelming record most notable for its country and folk explorations ("Nashville", "Some of Them Burn"), which continued with A Big World of Fun, the self-released debut from Shotgun Wedding (reviewed at Kibbutz Music Reviews #48).
Lynn's touring repertoire with Hot Tub Party is about half Shotgun Wedding material and one-quarter each Area and m7x, which allowed this long-time Moon Seven Times fan his first chance to hear Area material performed in concert. Indeed, the trio (including fellow University of Illinois cohorts on keyboards and on accordion, alto and tenor saxophone) performed two songs from the very first Area record, which has never been released on compact disc. This came as quite a surprise. The set started off with one of the most immediately accessible m7x compositions, 7=49's entrancing "My Game," which not coincidentally is one of the band's compositions which is least-reliant on Henry Frayne's guitar playing. They continued with another m7x track, Sunburnt's "Further," before delving into the depths of the Area catalogue with "By My Eyes," a song so obscure I don't even know it - and I think I own almost every song Lynn's ever sung, with the exception of the odd compilation track. Fortunately the audience could follow along easily with the help of a Hot Tub Party hymnal of sorts, a miniature cartoon book of lyrics and drawings helpfully arrayed in the order of the trio's set list. Although the band was forced to omit a few songs due to time constraints, they followed the songbook closely. A Big World of Fun was well-represented, with something like half of the album performed in concert. Although I enjoy Shotgun Wedding's output, it doesn't affect me as the m7x releases do. Still, it certainly has its charms, notably in "Effingham" and "Go Home Mary." "Inside Only Cat," a delightful trifle, gained some resonance in the midst of an animal-centered medly including m7x's ringing "Straw Donkeys," SW's "Firefly," and the Moon Seven Times self-titled debut's bonus track, "Ride 'em Chuck." The truly startling piece in the hour-and-a-half set was "Ethereal Girl," a gleefully ditzy glitter-bedecked parody of Madonna's "Material Girl" rewritten with gothcentric imagery. Before closing their set earlier than expected due to construction at the bookstore, the trio did loose, jazzy interpretations of Area's "With Louise," m7x's "Knock," and a few more Shotgun Wedding pieces. The pleasantest of selections for me was Radio Caroline's "One Desire," one of Area's most immediately enthralling melodies and a showpiece for some nice saxophone riffing.
Lynn's grey parrot and parakeet, in separate pet carriers, failed to live up to their billing as backup singers. There were a few die-hard Area/m7x fans in attendance, who hung rapturously on every lilt in Lynn's voice, but the band did quite well with the rest of the Borders audience, most of whom were merely looking for reading material. The trio's attractive mix of merchandise was anchored by a remarkable plastic box containing something called The Lynn Canfield Box Lunch Set, which contains the first two Area compact discs, all three Moon Seven Times CDs, an m7x seven-inch, the Shotgun Wedding CD, three of Lynn's adorable Big Dang comic books, a Shotgun Wedding calendar denoted helpfully with holidays, gardening hints and secret codes, a pile of greeting cards, salt and pepper shakers and silverware, and a fruit shaker(banana, orange or pear) like the one that she plays to accompany her singing.