BnL Live at the Klein, November 2010 – The Weekend Review

By Chris Moore:

See the Set List HERE.

On the heels of my previous BnL concert review, posted little more than three months ago, there isn’t much more that needs to be said, other than to underscore several assertions concerning the Barenaked Ladies.

First, it really can never be too soon to see them play live again.  After seeing them in August with decent seats and having had an outstandingly fun time, I almost considered letting this second New England tour stopover pass me by.


Being fortunate enough to live in an area that is located in, as a friend recently referred to it, the “Barenaked Belt,” it simply doesn’t make sense to not take advantage of it.  And, this time around, the venue was considerably smaller – Mohegan Sun Arena being 9500 capacity, and the Klein Auditorium being only 1400.  We sat front row balcony, or “mezzanine” as the theatre people say, and got some performances that probably wouldn’t find their way into a stadium set, songs like the rarely played “Moonstone” and “Tonight is the Night I Fell Asleep at the Wheel.”

A second assertion, and perhaps the main thrust of my August review, is that BnL is every bit as good as they were when Steven Page was in the band.  This is surprising, as he is such a unique talent and a man who brings considerable stage presence and energy to the live shows.

And, for the record, let’s be clear that I would love to see the five-man band reunited at some point down the road.

But, for now, the four-piece Barenaked Ladies are still a force to be reckoned with, and they have apparently decided that no catalog item is off limits, regardless of how much of a “Steven” song it is/was.  Take, for example, the fairly standard middle of their order, a veritable greatest hits of Steven Page tracks: “Sound of Your Voice,” “It’s All Been Done,” “Too Little Too Late,” and “Brian Wilson,” all topped off with the not-so-subtle “You Run Away.”

A third assertion is one that struck me early in the set last night: the Barenaked Ladies are the rare group of men that have gotten cooler as the years pass.  One needs only to compare their image and sound from the excellent and not-to-be-slighted Gordon era with their current stage show in order to appreciate just how cool they’ve become without losing too many fans to claims of selling out.

They have such a vast array of music, and to a certain degree, they allow for it in their set lists.  Although there are certain songs that you can reasonably expect (and in certain orders), there is room for adlibs and unexpected deep tracks, songs like those mentioned above.  Even songs that have been played about ten thousand times over their career, like “One Week,” have taken on a fresh appeal.  With Kevin Hearn singing the Page parts of “One Week” last night, I think they’ve finally perfected their recent live arrangement of this, their best-known composition.  Likewise, Tyler Stewart and Jim Creeggan have stepped up their game, Stewart bringing down the house with his reinvigorated, Jack Black-esque approach to “Alcohol” and Creeggan with his on-stage gesticulations, ear-to-ear grin, and acceptance of the spotlight for tracks like “On the Lookout” and “Peterborough and the Kawarthas.”

Finally, as if it needs to be said, Ed Robertson is a force unto himself.  His white man rapping helped to establish the band’s public image, and he is ever willing to put himself out there for a laugh.

When I choose the words “put himself out there,” I mean that literally.

Last night, as a tribute to their excellent opening act Jukebox the Ghost’s final night on tour, Robertson emerged from backstage with only a towel on.  Then, positioning himself between keyboardist/lead vocalist Ben Thornewill and the audience, he opened his towel so only Thornewill could see him and proceeded to dance to the music.  He moved around the stage and repeated this process for the other two band members.  Meanwhile, the crowd was laughing and clapping and screaming, and guitarist Tommy Siegel laughed his way through his vocals.

As Thornewill pointed out after the song, he could only see Robertson in his peripheral vision at first.  When he reached his hand out to pretend to tickle him, he found that Robertson was indeed wearing only a towel.

Never let it be said that the “Barenaked” part of their band name hasn’t been earned.

Forgive me for getting up on my soapbox yet again, but BnL continues to be one of the most underappreciated rock music acts of the modern age.  If you or someone you know hears “Barenaked Ladies” and instantly thinks “goofy,” “funny,” “If I Had $1,000,000,” and/or “One Week,” then check for a tour date in your area.  One show and you’ll be hooked.  Guaranteed.

I’ve been a fan now for over a decade, and they continue to recapture my interest and adoration each and every time I see them live.

As I climb off my soapbox, I bid you good day and hope this review might at least inspire a spin of Maroon or Stunt.  Or Gordon.  Or Maybe You Should Drive.  Or Everything to Everyone.  Or…

Well, you get the idea.

Music Review: Pearl Jam’s “Backspacer”

RATING:  4 / 5 stars

By Chris Moore:

This most recent Pearl Jam release is aptly titled; in many ways, Backspacer is closer in focus and energy to Ten than any of their more recent efforts.

Most reviews have wasted little time in pointing out that this album holds the band’s record for brevity — 37 minutes from the first guitar strum to the final vocal fade.  This can, of course, be interpreted in one of two ways, the worst case scenario being that the album was hurriedly prepared and produced.

This could not be further from the truth.

Backspacer is a strong, purposeful album comprised of eleven very upbeat, very direct tracks that leave little room for the listener to catch his breath over the record’s half hour span.  For the most part, these tight, three minute tracks are energizing and satisfying, catchier and cooler than anything Eddie Vedder and company have turned out in a long time.

This is, of course, a mixed bag.  After all, short, to-the-point pop rock is fun when done properly — which, by the way, it certainly is here.  Still, the electric soundscapes of 2000’s Binaural and the distortion-drenched protest of 2002’s Riot Act were excellent installments in the Pearl Jam catalog, even if their respective values have been minimized by critics who seemed more concerned with comparing them to early releases like Ten and Vs.

It should be noted that 2006’s Pearl Jam lacked cohesiveness as an album, although several songs on that release are among the best of their career (“World Wide Suicide” or “Marker in the Sand,” anyone?).  This eponymous release is an album of wild energy and abandon, which works particularly well in the first half of the track listing.  That being said, Vedder rips his vocal chords to shreds in his effort to sing without holding any emotion or effort in reserve.  This works well in some places, and yet crackles to pieces in others.

Pearl Jam's "Backspacer" (2009)

On Backspacer, Vedder has somehow been able to amp up his emotions and energy, and yet his vocals stand out as some of the best of any Pearl Jam recording to date.  Some songs, like the opener “Gonna See My Friend,” harken back to the roughly shouted vocals of Pearl Jam.  Most, however, feature Vedder at his best.

The opening track is also notable for a strumming pattern that is evocative of some mid-1950s Chuck Berry-esque riffing — with a decidedly grunge rock twist to it, of course.  “Gonna See My Friend” is a catchy track but certainly does not stand out among the other excellent album starters of their career.

From the first millisecond of “Got Some,” there is suddenly evidence that this might be an excellent album.  Jeff Ament’s collaboration with Vedder is a nice addition to the other outstanding Ament contributions — think: “God’s Dice,” “Ghost,” and “Low Light;”  if you’re really kind, forget “Pilate.”  The best part of “Got Some” is that, by the time it has finished, you haven’t even heard the single yet.

“The Fixer” comes next, a tour-de-force taken on very convincingly by Vedder.  I have vacillated about three or four times a day since I picked up the album on Sunday, and I’m still not certain whether I like “Got Some” or “The Fixer” better.  I suppose I’ll just have to keep listening…

As the album continues, there are other rockers performed at breakneck speed (“Johnny Guitar,” “Supersonic”), as well as considerably slower, more instrospective numbers (“Just Breathe,” “The End”).  These latter tracks were clearly influenced by Vedder’s recent solo project, writing and recording the soundtrack for the Sean Penn film Into the Wild.  The fingerpicking patterns that open these songs are reminiscent of his solo tracks, yet these songs clearly show the progress Vedder has made in such a short time, particularly in terms of structure.

For once, I am forced to agree with Rolling Stone‘s assessment of this album.  Their four star rating is a simple means of stating that Backspacer is an excellent album, but not a masterpiece.  From track 6 to “The End,” the album takes some repeated listening to really be appreciated.  At first, I felt that some of these tracks were too tight and traditional to ever truly stand out.  As I’ve listened, more and more of these songs have stood out, like the soaring “Amongst the Waves” and the excellent “Speed of Sound” (listen to Vedder’s vocals in the first few lines as he momentarily invokes Leonard Cohen).

Backspacer may not be the next Ten, but it is silly to even entertain that desire.  (If you read music reviews in the major magazines, you wouldn’t know it though!)  What this release does offer is an energetic, cohesive Pearl Jam album — and that, for me, has always been more than enough.

Barenaked Ladies SET LIST – 8/06/2010 at Mohegan Sun, Uncasville, CT

Click HERE to read the review!

1)  “Who Needs Sleep?”
2)  “Old Apartment”
3)  “Falling for the First Time”
4)  Improv 1 – “At Mohegan Sun” rap / “Something Tells Me I’m Into Something Good”
5)  “Every Subway Car” (with Angel Taylor)
6)  “Told You So”
7)  “Easy”
8)  “Eraser”
9)  “Another Heartbreak”
10) “On the Lookout”
11) “Sound of Your Voice” (acoustic)
12) “It’s All Been Done”
13) “Too Little Too Late”
14) “Golden Boy”
15) “You Run Away”
16) “Four Seconds”
17) “Big Bang Theory Theme”
18) “One Week”
19) “Pinch Me”
20) “If I Had $1000000”
21) Improv 2 – “Oh, It’s Magic, You Know” / rap / dance number

22) “Alcohol”
23) “Watching the Northern Lights”
24) “Brian Wilson”

Barenaked Ladies’ “All in Good Time” (2010) – The Weekend Review

By Chris Moore:

RATING:  5 / 5 stars

I’ll start by addressing the controversy surrounding the release of this album.

It’s only fair to clear the air, considering there’s been quite a lot of debate.  Although many will claim that it all began recently, I trace this issue back as early as 2006.

The issue I’m referring to, that I’m certain is on everyone’s minds, is the pressing question:

Is All in Good Time the eighth, ninth, or tenth album in the Barenaked Ladies’ not inconsiderable catalog?

(That’s what you thought I meant, right?)

To answer this question, you must revisit BnL’s past three releases: Are Me (2006), Are Men (2007), and Snacktime! (2008).  If you’re inclined to count them all as individual studio releases, then this year’s album is their tenth.  If you don’t count children’s albums, then it’s the ninth.  If you file the remaining two as an Are Me/Are Men double album proper, then we’re down to All in Good Time being the eighth.

You may be wondering, is it worth wasting energy considering such minutiae?

I think not.

However, as we stand at the precipice of a new decade of BnL being one of the most underrated and under-appreciated bands in contemporary rock music, it is worthwhile to take note of just how much they have achieved in recent history.

Believe me: the review may well afford you an enhanced understanding and appreciation of the band’s latest effort.

All in Good Time is an album of balance, an album of desperate searching and of confronting denials of satisfaction.  Contrary to stances I’ve read in the few professional reviews that have been written, All in Good Time is not a more serious departure from those fun-lovin, goofy Canadians we “used to know.”  Rather, any serious listener (i.e. no one under the employ of Rolling Stone‘s reviews department) would recognize that BnL’s catalog is deeper than “Be My Yoko Ono,” “If I Had $1,000,000,” “One Week,” and “Another Postcard.”  Particularly in the past ten years, this band has produced some of the most lyrically compelling and instrumentally impressive rock music available.

In many ways, All in Good Time borders on the concept-driven.  From the piano-laden lead-off single “You Run Away” to the deceptively upbeat track two “Summertime,” Ed Robertson and company quickly establish this as a post-traumatic album, a collection of songs that express various approaches toward disagreement and separation.

Please don’t misread my interpretation: I, for one, have found this album to have more depth than your average “breakup album.”  A comparison to the classics — Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, perhaps — just wouldn’t be right.  There is a certain strength of purpose here that other breakup albums simply cannot manage.  That may be why we’re drawn to them: as expressions of how it feels to cope with pain, loss, and even utter devastation of a lifestyle.

Instead, what I hear in Robertson, Kevin Hearn, Jim Creeggan, and even Tyler Stewart’s vocals is a certain solidarity we’ve come to expect from BnL.  When dealing with the most serious of trauma, their levity is woven in, even if it is more subtle than a song about laughing at funerals or running through a lawn sprinkler with your gym shorts on.  Consider Robertson’s line about crashing a party in “The Love We’re In,” to which he adds, “I’ll crash the plane” (referring, of course, to his own plane crash last year).

Additionally, not since their debut with 1992’s Gordon has such a sense of community been apparent in a BnL album.  More recently, particularly with those aforementioned past three releases, BnL has increased the number and degree of contributions from the so-called supporting members, namely Hearn, Creeggan, and Stewart.

In the wake of Steven Page’s departure (fine! I went and said it!), this is precisely what was needed to push the band to the next level in a career that has been marked by consistent evolution.

BnL's "All in Good Time" (2010)

BnL's "All in Good Time" (2010)

Starting the album with such a melancholy track as “You Run Away” — and sending it out as the first single — can only be classified as a bold, honest move on their part.  Either that or it indicates an utter lack of concern for marketing (which is well within their discretion, now, as an independent act).  Regardless, “You Run Away” builds up to such a degree that it’s a bit jolting to return to the beginning, so much does the second half rock out that you’re liable to forget just how slow the opening was.

“Summertime,” the second track, is framed by a big, beautifully crunchy riff and some vocal ba-da-ba’s on the outro that invoke seventies America.  Lyrically, Robertson asks, “How do we make it through the days?  How do we not cave in and bottom out?”  This is a tone-setter for the album as a whole, and as the choral response indicates, “Soon enough we’ll wake up from such a daze…”

See?  Even in an album imbued with such heartache and anger, BnL remains steadfast in their positive outlook.

The third track is one of Hearn’s three contributions, a slow-and-steady lament titled “Another Heartbreak.”  This is a song of accepting an inevitable failure, but, as Hearn sings, “it’s still a chance I had to take.”  This reminds me of that noble truth expressed by Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird: “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what” (Chapter 11).

“Four Seconds” is perhaps the quirkiest, and the quickest, BnL song yet — and that’s saying something.  When I first heard it, I was somewhat surprised that it had not been chosen as the single, especially considering the characteristic Robertson rapping.  It’s the kind of song that makes you happy to have a lyric booklet to refer to as you endeavor to learn the song and keep up.

Next comes a Creeggan track, “On the Lookout.”  This is a beautiful track, making full use of Creeggan’s smooth vocals for a fitting lead.  Like “Summertime,” there are all manner of interesting effects and instrumentation stretching out just beneath the surface.

“Ordinary” is strung together by Robertson’s intricate picking, but this is a track that clearly features the individual vocal and instrumental contributions of each of the other three members.  Like “You Run Away,” this track is an exemplar of the start-out-slow-and-build-up-to-full-speed arrangement.

The muted electric notes at the intro of “I Have Learned” provide an instant contrast with the acoustic “Ordinary.”  The result is a murky tone, as though there is something lurking beneath the surface.  Turns out that the “something” is a passive aggression.  Listen for the notes Robertson (or Hearn?) plays just before the minute and a half mark; if one’s temper being tweaked could be translated to electric guitar, this is what it would sound like.

As “Every Subway Car” rolls out, it becomes clear that this is not an album devoid of love songs.  The spray paint metaphor — the narrator’s handy work being brilliantly described as “urban gardens in bloom” — is classic Barenaked Ladies, and the track is catchy as hell.

Just in time, Hearn returns with a change of pace in “Jerome,” a ghost-town ballad through “Bloody Basin Road” to a locale populated by “bar brawlers and drifters, gamblers and gun fighters, ladies of the evening, and copper miners.”  This really isn’t a story so much as a song that establishes the proper setting for just about anyone to fill in the plot with their own ghosts.  Perhaps that is what Hearn intended: for his listeners to recall the memories that fill their own “jailhouses”…

The Barenaked Ladies have never produced a better angry rock song than “How Long.”  Lyrically and vocally, the song peaks at the middle as Robertson nearly screams, “I know you know I know you… so don’t say it!”  This song is so good that I can almost forget the “it’s for reals” line entirely… almost.

The band pulls back a notch for “Golden Boy,” but the passive aggressive undertones continue, punctuated by a distorted electric guitar under the vocals.  There are so many ways to read into and interpret the lyrics, that I won’t even begin.

“I Saw It” is, no arguments, one of the prettiest, most heartbreaking songs in the BnL canon.  In their twenty year career, Jim Creeggan has written a wide range of eccentric songs, but now that he has punched out several more straightforward tunes, it is clear that he can write with the best of his bandmates when the inspiration is there.  Of all the sad melodies on this album, “I Saw It” is unsurpassed.

Like ripping a band-aid, I’m just going to say it: “The Love We’re In” sounds, at least lyrically, like a song penned by early 2000’s John Mayer.  (Now, don’t get me wrong, as early John Mayer is, in this writer’s opinion, the only John Mayer worth listening to.)  To be fair, the comparison ends after the first verse is finished, but I had to note it.

An extremely brief forty-five minutes after the first piano note of “You Run Away,” the album comes in for a final run with “Watching the Northern Lights.”  Initially, I didn’t think much of this song, but the more I’ve listened, the more I’ve appreciated Hearn’s subtle genius and the more his lead vocal has crept into my mind and lingered there.

What more is there to say?  Instrumentally impressive, vocally brilliant, and lyrically interesting: All in Good Time is yet another Barenaked Ladies album worthy of making the best-of lists.  Don’t hold your breath for the “professionals” to acknowledge it, though: go out and listen for yourself.