October 22, 2018

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After 25 years, Crash Test Dummies still Mmm, Mmm good

Tour inspired by anniversary of God Shuffled His Feet

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the release of God Shuffled His Feet, the album that put the Crash Test Dummies on the world’s radar.

To honour the occasion, four of five members of the best-known iteration of the band — singer-songwriter Brad Roberts; his brother, bassist Dan Roberts; Ellen Reid (vocals, keyboards, accordion); and drummer Mitch Dorge — have embarked on a tour that brings them to the Club Regent Event Centre tonight for a sold-out hometown show. (The missing member, harmonica/mandolin player Ben Darvill, lives in the U.K and performs in the one-man blues band Son of Dave.)

With its chart-topping single Mmm, Mmm, Mmm, Mmm (not to mention the Weird Al Yankovic parody Headline News), God Shuffled His Feet gained the most international success for the band — evidenced by the fact that they will be performing it in its entirety on the tour’s U.S. dates — but for a generation of Canadian fans, 1991’s The Ghosts That Haunt Me might be a more meaningful touchstone.

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This year marks the 25th anniversary of the release of God Shuffled His Feet, the album that put the Crash Test Dummies on the world’s radar.

To honour the occasion, four of five members of the best-known iteration of the band — singer-songwriter Brad Roberts; his brother, bassist Dan Roberts; Ellen Reid (vocals, keyboards, accordion); and drummer Mitch Dorge — have embarked on a tour that brings them to the Club Regent Event Centre tonight for a sold-out hometown show. (The missing member, harmonica/mandolin player Ben Darvill, lives in the U.K and performs in the one-man blues band Son of Dave.)

With its chart-topping single Mmm, Mmm, Mmm, Mmm (not to mention the Weird Al Yankovic parody Headline News), God Shuffled His Feet gained the most international success for the band — evidenced by the fact that they will be performing it in its entirety on the tour’s U.S. dates — but for a generation of Canadian fans, 1991’s The Ghosts That Haunt Me might be a more meaningful touchstone.

Four of five members of the best-known iteration of the band — Ellen Reid (from left), Brad Roberts, Dan Roberts and Mitch Dorge — are celebrating God Shuffled His Feet on a tour that brings them to the Club Regent Event Centre Friday. </p>

Four of five members of the best-known iteration of the band — Ellen Reid (from left), Brad Roberts, Dan Roberts and Mitch Dorge — are celebrating God Shuffled His Feet on a tour that brings them to the Club Regent Event Centre Friday.

The quintet’s debut album introduced the country to the literate, Celtic folk-influenced pop Winnipeg fans had been soaking up every time the band performed at its regular haunt, the Blue Note Café.

It was Brad Roberts’ deep, resonant voice that captured much of the attention, but just as important to the songs’ unique sound were Reid’s vocals, providing a lilting, harmonic counterpoint to Roberts’ rumbling tones.

Now living in Toronto, where she works at a clothing boutique in the Beaches neighbourhood, Reid, who was born in Selkirk, says her unusual harmonies were a natural extension of growing up in a musical family.

"Growing up, no one sang the melody of happy birthday," she recalls. "Harmonies really do come naturally to me and I enjoy doing it and I enjoy having fun with it. The only problem is I have trouble sometimes singing the same thing twice, so in the studio it can be like, ‘Do what you did last time,’ and I’m ‘Uhh…"

"But after 28 years of singing with Brad, I can intuit how he is going to approach a song, so it’s easy."

Ellen Reid's vocals were just as important to the sound of the Crash Test Dummies as Brad Roberts' voice. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press files)</p>

Ellen Reid's vocals were just as important to the sound of the Crash Test Dummies as Brad Roberts' voice. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press files)

That level of comfort is a blessing when heading out on the road for an extended tour, which, after 25 years, is both strange and familiar, Reid admits.

"Although this is a very bare-bones tour for us — it’s just the band and a tour manager — instantly we all have learned helplessness. Like we don’t even know where the bathrooms are; we have to ask the tour manager. We need someone to tell us what to do and where to go."

This time out, Reid, a longtime vegan, also has to deal with meals from roadside diners that tend to pride themselves on the number of animal products they can cram on a plate.

"I am not a person, I never have been, who has to eat gourmet meals every day," says the musician, 52. "I’m happy as long as I’m getting my basic nutrients; I can have my fancy food when I’m at home.

"We made two pit stops between Lloydminster and Edmonton at a place called the Old School Diner in Vegreville, and there was nothing for me there. But they gave me the house salad and opened a can of beans and put them on top and it was fine."

The band last played Winnipeg in the summer of 2017 when they headlined a night of music at The Forks during the Canada Summer Games. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press files)</p>

The band last played Winnipeg in the summer of 2017 when they headlined a night of music at The Forks during the Canada Summer Games. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press files)

For Reid, the slight disruption to her diet has been more than made up for by the positive response from audience members, who she says range in age from 18 to 60 — including a new generation of fans who tell her their parents introduced them to the Crash Test Dummies.

On the Canadian leg of the tour, the set list goes beyond God Shuffled His Feet; Reid says she’s aware the group’s early catalogue has a heightened nostalgic importance to fans north of the border.

"Sometimes when people tell me that, it’s like, yeah, whatever, but then I think about bands that have influenced me and musicians that were a big part of one part of my life," she says. "When I see we’ve got that for them, it’s really, really humbling and lovely to know that we’re part of people’s lives in that way."

Asked if playing for happy crowds ever tempts her to return to being a full-time musician, Reid says she’s perfectly happy doing one-off shows — such as the one the band played with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra last year — or the occasional tour, but she won’t outstay her welcome.

"The window of opportunity for doing this is closing," she says. "You know, we’re in our 50s, and I distinctly remember saying when I was 30, ‘I don’t want to be in a van when I’m 50.’ And here I am!"

jill.wilson@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @dedaumier

The Crash Test Dummies are poised and ready to take on the world in this undated promo photo. </p>

The Crash Test Dummies are poised and ready to take on the world in this undated promo photo.

Jill Wilson

Jill Wilson
Senior copy editor

Jill Wilson writes about culture and the culinary arts for the Arts & Life section.

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