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By Chris Moore:
To the public eye, and even to some fans, the Barenaked Ladies’ break with Steven Page is a loss that could nullify any future efforts in the band’s name. This is understandable to some degree, as Page has appeared to be one half of the band in their most well-known singles (think: “If I Had $1000000” and “One Week”). If Page is gone, some have said, then perhaps it is time for BnL to close up shop.
Anyone in attendance at the Mohegan Sun arena on Friday, August 6 would beg to differ.
(Correction: anyone with any sense, which is clearly not everyone based on other reviews which have been posted on the web, Ticketmaster.com in particular.)
The truth is that the Barenaked Ladies achieved live in concert what they recently achieved on record with All in Good Time: reminding their audience that their three supporting members are more than simply support members. Kevin Hearn, in addition to being a skilled multi-instrumentalist is a songwriter in his own right. And this is nothing new; remember “Sound of Your Voice,” the standout third track on Are Me? Remember “Hidden Sun,” the hidden track on Maroon? Yeah, those were Kevin Hearn songs, each another good reason to sing “Hold on, here comes a Kevin Hearn song” to his new track “Another Heartache,” as Mike had us all doing in the car on the way to the concert.
Jim Creegan is not only their bass player, but has released numerous albums apart from BnL, many with former Lady Andy as the Brothers Creegan. Recently, he has begun adding his songs to BnL albums again, and it may come as a shock to realize that the band’s best singer is arguably a man known more for his background vocals than his leads.
Tyler Stewart has always been the guy who makes you laugh. He’s a good drummer, but we’ve known that. Well, starting with “Allergies” on 2008’s Snacktime, Stewart has asserted even his lead singing voice. In the absence of Page, Stewart has accompanied frontman Ed Robertson at all of their All in Good Time promotional interviews, from radio to VH1, and his voice can be heard in a brief but significant role on what should have been the latest BnL single, “Four Seconds.”
Really, it should have come as no surprise that the 8/6/2010 Barenaked Ladies show at Mohegan Sun met and far exceeded any expectations I had for the concert — which were many and various, having seen the five-piece band in action and being the longtime fan that I am.
Aside from the improvisational numbers, the unmitigated high points of the concert were their performances of “Old Apartment,” “Eraser,” “On the Lookout,” “Sound of Your Voice,” and “Alcohol,” each highlighting a different strength of their live show.
Hearing “Old Apartment” three songs into the show was a surprise and a treat. It was almost as if to make a statement that they will still play their older songs regardless of Page’s absence. “The Old Apartment” has classic Steven Page lead vocal written all over it, but Robertson did an outstanding job of leading the song as if he, not Page, had been singing it for two decades. In the encore, they again made a statement with Stewart taking the lead on “Alcohol,” bringing the house down as he stepped out from behind the drum kit (with Robertson taking over there) and channeled Jack Black in his energetic performance. This was not simply a novelty, like, “Oh, that’s nice that they gave Tyler something else to do.” This was a surprising, thrilling, straight-up amazing performance of a track I never expected to hear in concert again.
“Sound of Your Voice” was originally performed by its writer, Hearn, in concert until they realized that Page’s presence took the song to whole new level. Again, I was disappointed to think that I would never hear this song performed to its full potential again. Not so. Their new arrangement of “Sound of Your Voice” features Hearn on acoustic guitar, singing lead, and the three other band members singing Temptations-style backup, perfectly voicing the signature parts of the song that were previously hit by guitars and other instruments. This was an impressive, funny, and yet seriously good version of the song.
When Creegan took to the piano, my first response was, “Wait. Jim plays piano?” Making like the Band, the Ladies mixed up instruments all night long, and this was perhaps the pinnacle. Creegan’s performance of “On the Lookout” was beautiful and perfect, except perhaps for the absence of Robertson’s “Let’s roll this one from the top” intro from the studio recording. Another piano song that stood out was “Eraser,” introduced by Hearn and Robertson competing to see who could hold out the “Eeeeeeeeee-” note longer than the other. Suffice it to say that this ended with Robertson pretending to fall, ending up “unconscious” on his back. Even the songs from their children’s album held up here, and “Eraser” was every bit as impressive as the other, more “serious” songs.
True to form, a Barenaked Ladies concert wouldn’t be complete without improvisation. Twice during the night, the four-piece experimented musically, sans Steven Page who had always been their most theatrical member. In his place, Robertson put together a hilarious medley of Herman’s Hermits’ “Something Tells Me I’m Into Something Good” and a rap about gambling at Mohegan Sun, the latter of which was a theme returned to all night in their stage banter. Then, with Hearn on piano for a medley of recent pop songs kicked off with the 1974 Pilot song “Magic” — best known for the chorus line, “Oh, oh, it’s magic, you know” — Robertson, Creegan, and Stewart performed a dance number that not only caused the most energetic crowd reaction of the night, but was also fantastically choreographed and obviously well-rehearsed. The next time I have to explain BnL to someone who has only heard their hits, I will mention this final improv: they didn’t settle for being goofy; instead, they put together a tight performance that demonstrated just how seriously they take their on-stage personas.
The Barenaked Ladies are as tight, impressive, and enterprising a band as they have ever been. After two decades as one of rock music’s most under-appreciated quintets, save for a short stint at the top of the charts in 1998, it looks like they’re poised to be one of rock music’s most under-appreciated quartets of the new decade. Their live act is as exciting and as long (in the range of two hours) as my favorite act of last summer, Wilco, a band that has reached what is perhaps their critical prime. Do yourself a favor and tune in to BnL as well.