SameDiff BNL

Barenaked Ladies Prove Barely Tolerable

By BRETT MILANO, Boston Herald, July 23rd, 2001.

Tweeter Center, Mansfield
Saturday, July 21, 2001

Aside from certain politicians, nobody does as much smirking and mugging onstage as the Barenaked Ladies. The Canadian quintet might not have the best jokes in the world, but they seem to have no problem cracking themselves up.

This is a band with a message, and that message is, "Look at us, we're wacky!"

Maybe you don't think pop music should be wacky. Maybe you think it should have great songs, real emotion and smart humor instead of cheap jokes. In that case, you'd be out of luck at a BNL show. Their sound is patterned after that of a few, far superior bands — Squeeze, XTC and especially, Crowded House. But while those bands wrote creative and memorable songs, the Ladies write lightweight, naggingly catchy ditties.

Faced with the choice of playing pop or being cute, they'll go for the latter every time.

How bad did it get? So bad that every time someone in the band told a story — like guitarist Ed Robertson talking about buying a mechanical dog — the rest of the band would make up a cute little song about it.

And their idea of a big laugh is to make fun of rap music. In fact, the finale was a medley of current rap hits, with the band doing a cute little dance. But oddly, one of their serious numbers was "Break Your Heart," where Steven Page bellowed his way through an attempted soul ballad. So, a soulless white band doing rap is a joke, but a soulless white band doing a soul ballad is serious? You figure it out.

The other serious number, the encore "Tonight I Fell Asleep at the Wheel," was less a song than an overlong public-service announcement. The basic message might be a worthy one — "Remember, kids, don't drink and drive" — but it's also as obvious as it gets.

Canadian singer/ songwriter Sarah Harmer was a late addition to the bill — a pleasant surprise, since her songs have real feeling and depth. But Vertical Horizon represented modern rock at its slickest and blandest. Though there isn't a trace of urgency in their music, their lyrics are full of weighty pronouncements. In the first tune they claimed they were sleeping on a time bomb. Frankly, after an hour with this band, one could probably sleep anywhere.