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Barenaked Ladies Jingle, Fizzle

By JOSHUA KLEIN, Chicago Tribune, September 26th 2000.

When Canada's Barenaked Ladies finally made the leap from cult favorite to commercial sensation with its hugely popular 1998 disc "Stunt," the eyes of "Weird" Al Yankovic probably went wide with admiration. Here's some music, he might have thought, that makes me seem downright subdued.

While Barenaked Ladies isn't entirely a novelty act, the group's incessantly goofy humor, jarringly bright songs and adenoidal singing can be about as tough to stomach as a steady diet of snack food jingles. The band offers a kind of cloying, overeager cleverness — think XTC without the edge — but the spark of its songs fizzles out after a few too many spins. Usually two.

The title of Barenaked Ladies' latest compact disc is "Maroon," and even though the band has pushed its music in a slightly more serious direction, you certainly wouldn't want to be stranded on a desert island with it. But that didn't stop the band from packing the UIC Pavilion Sunday night, or even from tacking on an additional ticket charge for a voucher good for one copy of the aforementioned album. If this means dedicated, die-hards may be stuck with an extra "Maroon" then, hey, so be it: They're probably grateful for the privilege.

To the credit of Barenaked Ladies, the group has built a remarkably strong rapport with fans, who have transformed performances into "Rocky Horror"-like rituals, often with flying food.

The band began in silly mode and gradually grew more infantile as the show wore on.

New songs such as "Too Little Too Late" and "Pinch Me" were interrupted by embarrassing rap — yes, rap — interludes that stunted whatever momentum the group had drummed up. With the vocals of Steven Page and Ed Robertson mixed so loud, no horrible rhyme went unheard (most egregious example: the pairing of "Roman Polanski" and "given a chance-ski" in "Sell Sell Sell") and no opportunity for a stupid spontaneous song was missed. Granted, that may be the band's trademark, but the group could at least attempt to be funny as well as frantic. A rendition of "Mustang Sally" sung as "Mustache Sally?" Please.

Barenaked Ladies' biggest hits such as "One Week," "Brian Wilson" and "It's All Been Done" went over predictably well, as did fan favorites "Jane" and "The Old Apartment." But the highlight of the show may have been a rapid-fire infomercial-styled medley of old songs, complete with a scrolling song list. If only the rest of the set had been as swift.

Far more interesting was the opening act, Guster. A true novelty, the Boston band offered the unconventional lineup of two guitars and a conga player, but it's smart power-pop transcended the unique arrangement and left much more of a mark than the trifling ditties of the headliner.