Crash Test Dummies began their tour celebrating the 25th anniversary of God Shuffled His Feet release at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul on Friday night and I was nervous. They hadn’t played in 17 years and I really didn’t know what I was getting into.
I didn’t want to go alone. It felt like I was going to meet a life long pen pal, someone I’d always said I wanted to meet. But now that it was really happening I wasn’t sure I was ready. I’d heard about people getting crushed by their idols—Bob Dylan reworking his songs into unrecognizable wonk, Lauryn Hill showing up unbearably late. If the Dummies pulled some shit like that… I didn’t know what I would do.
If you’ve been thinking to yourself, “Crash Test Dummies? Aren’t they that ’90s one hit wonder where the deep voice goes mmm mmm mmm mmm?”—well, yes. Yes they are. To most.
But not to me. You see, most people have a “your best friend forever” record. You bought the cassette. Then you bought the CD. You can’t help but include it on every Spotify playlist, even when the tracks don’t really fit in the mix, because you don’t ditch your BFF record just cause some new music came out.
And my BFF record is… now don’t laugh… God Shuffled His Feet. That record has been with me through the greatest ups and downs of my life, and if you have a best friend record you know the feeling. If you don’t—well then, I just feel sorry for you.
I admit that it's a weird choice for a BFF. It's a cheeky, chipper product of that strange time after grunge broke but before Radiohead reached their peak, at time when warbly white dudes with acoustic guitars and unnecessarily complicated backing bands dominated alternative music.
But the sound isn’t really what makes it my BFF record. I didn’t even hear it till five years after it came out, when the band’s mainstream success had all but faded. At my private Christian elementary school we only listened to Christian music; at home I heard my dad’s Billy Joel and “Weird” Al records. But then, when I was a freshman in high school, we finally got cable. I was just starting to learn about secular music, as Evangelical Christians call non-Christian music, ans I saw a VH-1 pop-up video of “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm.” I immediately went out and bought the album and on the ride home I heard Brad Roberts' deep, clear voice singing about a picnic God threw on the seventh day of creation.
At that time, I believed that the world had been created in literally seven 24-hour days. (Did I mention I went to a Christian grade school?) And the idea of a pop singer with a video on VH-1, writing about a seven day creation picnic with God was really exciting.
The lyrics went:
The people sipped their wine
And what with God there, they asked him questions
Like: do you have to eat
Or get your hair cut in heaven?
And if your eye got poked out in this life
Would it be waiting up in heaven with your wife?
My sheltered Christian mind was completely blown. No one in all my Sunday School classes had ever asked those questions before. I had finally found a non-Christian who was as curious about God as I was.
And over the years I had come back to the questions on the record.
Why does God cause things like tornadoes and train wrecks?
How does a duck know what direction south is?
How come all my body parts so nicely fit together?
They are questions, even now at 34, I still have no answers for. Maybe that’s why God Shuffled His Feet is still my BFF record 20 years later.
As I entered the Fitzgerald I was curious to see who else would be there. The tickets were not cheap—at least not one-hit-wonder cheap. So I was optimistic that there would be at least a few people who loved the record as much as I do.
I asked the two guys across the aisle from me why they came. One smiled and in a thick northern woods accent said, “We go to the Boundary Waters on a camping trip every summer. And we only listen to God Shuffled His Feet on repeat the whole week.” I could tell he wondered how I would react. “I know how you feel,” I said with a smile. They told me that they actually don’t allow anyone on the trip to listen to any other record. And yes, that dude on the right is wearing an Eaux Claires 3 sweatshirt. He knows about other music.
By the time the lights went down the Fitz was nearly full of graying Gen Xers, with a few millennials scattered about. The band came on stage, dressed in all black, and, they looked 25 years older than on the album cover, because they were. (With the exception of the guitarist who was clearly a hired gun in his 20s.)
Singer Brad Roberts now looked more weathered and gray-haired than when I’d first seen him on VH1. The sloshing intro sound effects from the title track to God Shuffled His Feet came out of the PA. I felt my heart swell as the band started to play. It sounded just like the record. I was on the edge of my seat and Roberts stepped up to the mic, and the crowd took a collective breath, wondering what his voice would sound like after all these years.
Roberts absolutely nailed his deep vocal parts.
I sat back and smiled. And for the next two hours I got to see my BFF record performed live with hundreds of people singing along. No frills, no crazy re-worked versions. They played “Afternoons & Coffeespoons” acoustically but I suspect it was just so we could all sing along.
It was truly one of the greatest concert experiences of my life.
As songs came and went I remembered all the people I had been and all the questions I had wrestled with. I remembered my sophomore year sitting in my friend's cherry-red Geo Metro eating Taco Bell on our way to Bible study. I remembered working at summer camp. I remembered my freshman year of college when I finally learned who T.S. Eliot was and what Dada meant.
I won’t bore you with the details. But I hope someday you can go see your BFF record performed live. And I hope the band does you the great courtesy Crash Test Dummies did us that night by playing it just like they do on the record.
God Shuffled His Feet
In the Days of the Caveman
Swimming in Your Ocean
I Think I'll Disappear Now
How Does a Duck Know?
When I Go Out with Artists
Two Knights and Maidens
The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead (Ellen Reid lead vocal)
My Own Sunrise (Ellen Reid lead vocal)
Heart of Stone (acoustic)
Afternoons & Coffeespoons (acoustic)
Song Bird (acoustic)
Ghosts that Haunt Me
Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm