SameDiff BNL

Barenaked Ladies Leave Fans Laughing

By BRIAN McCOLLUM, Detroit Free Press, December 7th, 2000.

Canada's pranksters bring hits and giggles.

There was something funny about the Barenaked Ladies on Wednesday night.

No — like FUNNY, funny.

Dropping by their favorite stateside town, Canada's devout rock pranksters goofed around for more than 15,000 fans at the sold-out Palace of Auburn Hills. As Detroit fans have come to know and quite visibly love, a Barenaked Ladies concert is less a gig than a giggle.

The humor comes in an assortment of shapes and sizes: There's the Monty Python absurdism, manifested Wednesday night by the constant presence of an unnamed percussionist in a chef outfit, drolly unremarked upon by the band as if he were a perfectly normal sight. There's the racy slapstick, like the reliable riffs on edible underwear delivered throughout the show by frontmen Steve Page and Ed Robertson. There's that Gen X funnybone fave, irony, and it's painted all over the BNL carousel — the metal-god guitar hamming, the midshow drum solo (video screen disclaimer: "This is not a solo"), the barrage of incongruous pop culture references.

Mostly, though, the Barenaked Ladies' brand of humor is like the stuff you experience in your dorm at 3 in the morning, when you and your pals giggle with punchy fervor at an escalating flurry of inside jokes. It seems appropriate here: With their campus-clean look, the members of BNL are the unlikeliest of rock stars, guys so normal they make Hootie & the Blowfish look like Greenwich Village beats.

And, yes, they do play music. Wednesday's 2-hour set included a solid chunk of material from the group's new album, "Maroon," along with crowd-rousing sing-alongs from the band's past catalog. Few songs trod into transcendence; ultimately, there's something distressingly pedestrian about the bulk of the Ladies' songcraft. But there were fine moments: the punchy "Alcohol," the taut "Sell, Sell, Sell," the loping whimsy of "Jane" and "Off the Hook."

Still, a night with the Ladies is not about sobriety — in either the traditional or keg-party sense — and even the music doesn't escape the sabre of wit. That's why bassist Jim Creeggan mutated what started like a perfectly solemn classical solo into a bizarre ditty with the refrain, "I like to eat apples and bananas."

The band sounded good — three months after kicking off this tour with a show at Pine Knob, the ensemble was tight when it needed to be and playfully loose when it didn't. "Honed by the sharp stone of the road," offered Page during a freestyle battle of metaphors with Robertson.

As with any kitchen-sink approach, elements of the band's presentation fall flat. In particular, the funky-nerd schtick — a series of raps and dance steps continually called upon by Page and Robertson — are the sorts of things delivered with far subtler skill by someone like Beck.

But give the band some Ladies room: The hits outweigh the duds.