THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS with the Populars and Galore at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), December 29. $20. 416-532-1598, 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
Moe Berg gets a warm reception from the barkeep when he enters one of his favourite Annex haunts. Watching the proprietor trip over himself recommending various pints to the unassuming Pursuit of Happiness frontman, you get the impression this effusive welcome isn't just due to Berg's regular patronage or his status as a Canrock icon - it's a response to the bespectacled rocker's affability.
Indeed, Berg's a pretty endearing character. Ever since the scrawny youth from the burbs of Edmonton burst into Canadian consciousness with neurotic songs about growing pains and romantic failures, you couldn't help cheering for the pop underdog. One look at him and you knew TPOH weren't coasting on image, and their brand of earnest rock certainly couldn't be pinned on any trend.
Unfortunately, it wasn't until TPOH's waning years in the mid-90s that the mainstream finally embraced uncool musicians.
"The whole loser, creep, nerd thing came just after us," says Berg, sipping a pint. "I kinda wish we'd been around to get the payoff. I wish I'd been a nerd when it was a good thing - we chose maybe not such a great time for it."
Just as Rivers Cuomo and Beck began running off with the geek glory, the Pursuit of Happiness quietly went on permanent hiatus. The band simply "ran out of gas," as Berg puts it, and parted amicably in 1996. The members stayed friends as they went on to gigs in and outside the music biz.
In 1999, Berg released a solo disc, Summer's Over, but abandoned the project after its poor reception. Now he mostly writes short stories, gets production gigs with other bands and goes on road trips with his wife.
Yes, after so many anguished songs about doomed relationships, Berg finally found a special lady.
"I never wanted to get married or have kids, and then I met my wife and all of a sudden I wanted that stuff," beams Berg, who became a proud dad only weeks ago. "I went through my whole life without really thinking about it, but you can't keep having tortured relationships and being completely neurotic or you'll end up collecting things and becoming the subject of comedy movies."
But despite his domestic bliss, something was still bugging Berg. At a time when the music industry takes rampant commercial liberties with the best-of format, TPOH still didn't have a comprehensive retrospective comp on the shelves - until now.
Considering that Berg's band permeated the country's airwaves for a solid chunk of the 90s, their recently released hits package, When We Ruled, seems legitimately deserved.
Berg thinks it's long overdue.
"Even the bands who put out one record have best-ofs these days," he laughs. "I guess I felt like we weren't getting our due. We were part of the public consciousness for several years, and I wanted to be recognized with an anthology or some kind of statement that we were around at that time."
Berg drains the remnants of his pint glass and declines a refill. Beer's not the only thing he's had enough of. There'll be no new album, no cross-Canada tour or comeback attempt. There's even a possibility that TPOH's December 29 reunion show at Lee's will be the final coming of the Pursuit.
Berg wants the band to be remembered for never phoning it in.
"We always tried really hard," he says, tucking his hair behind his ears. "We were too nervous about people not liking us or getting mad at us, and consequently, we tried to play well every night. I was always afraid someone was going to call me up and say, 'You can't be in the music business any more because you put on a shitty show last night in Waterloo.'
"It was such an amazing experience to be able to travel and play in a band. If I have any regrets, it's that I didn't love every second of it."