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Review: Barenaked Ladies Show Built On Dual-Frontman Foundation

Ed Robertson By COREY MOSS,, September 25th, 2000.

Eccentric Canadian quintet showcases material from latest LP, Maroon.

CHICAGO — It wasn't one of Barenaked Ladies' zany classics that served as the theme of their show Sunday night — it was an impromptu cover of Rob Base.

"It takes two to make a thing go right," squealed Ed Robertson, the Canadian quintet's singer/ guitarist-turned-rapper. "It takes two to make it out of sight."

Two — two multitalented, attention-demanding singers, that is — was the selling point of Sunday's sold-out show at the UIC Pavilion, the second stop on the Barenaked Ladies' current tour. Even Guster, the outing's opening act, relied on the vocals and stage presence of two frontmen to ignite the crowd.

Robertson and Steven Page, the Ladies' other singer/ guitarist, may not be the Lennon and McCartney of the MTV generation, but the way they feed off each other's distinct voices and quirky stage antics is what makes a Barenaked Ladies show so fun.

Their music, backed by the equally eccentric trio of keyboardist/ guitarist Kevin Hearn, drummer Tyler Stewart and bassist Jim Creeggan, draws as much from fellow college rockers They Might Be Giants as the Beatles. Such songs as "Be My Yoko Ono" and "Shoe Box" have all the edge of the Giants' "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" and more.

On Sunday, the Barenaked Ladies spent most of their 90-minute performance showing off material from their new album, Maroon, which hit stores on Sept. 12. The show opened with goofy cartoon footage featuring the characters on the new album cover (they're actually contorted connect-the-dots figures), followed by the band tearing through "Too Little Too Late," the first song on the record.

Getting The Party Started Right

Clad in matching red button-up shirts and gray slacks (except for a tambourine player, who sported a chef outfit), the group took the stage through the mouth of a giant blow-up mosaic mask. Balloon versions of the Maroon characters decorated the stage and later served as the poles for Page's mock-seductive dances.

"Pinch Me", the Barenaked Ladies' current single, was an early highlight, with Robertson singing with surprising conviction.

Hearn made his singing debut shortly after, blending a "Star Wars" piano overture into a sci-fi version of Britney Spears' "Oops... I Did It Again." Later, Stewart stole the spotlight with a drum solo that actually mocked drum solos thanks to his Phil Collins-copped beats and the announcer warning, "This is not a drum solo. Do not get up and go to the bathroom... OK, this is a drum solo."

Page debuted a new side of the Barenaked Ladies by leading them through "Sell Sell Sell," a Broadway-inspired number that was as compelling as it was comical. The R&B-flavored "Conventioneers," from Maroon, and "The Old Apartment" proved the group was just as romantic as it was silly. The showy, sappy tunes were followed by a hilarious medley of their early hits, including "Life, in a Nutshell" and "Alternative Girlfriend."

After Page said they were "showing thanks to their longtime Chicago fans by playing every song they have ever written," a fake commercial appeared on the four big screens surrounding the stage, presenting a greatest-hits album with song titles scrolling. (The group played bits of the songs in yellow letters, of course.)

The tongue-in-cheek "One Week", the band's biggest hit, followed, once again showcasing the hidden b-boy in Robertson, who destroyed any hip-hop credibility by ending the song with a bad square-dance session with Page, topped off with a dip and a kiss on the lips.

Barenaked Ladies then treated their fans to back-to-back versions of the frat-party anthems "Brian Wilson" and "If I Had $1,000,000." Neither song was overly exciting, though the latter found Page and Robertson chatting between chorus breakdowns about everything from Page's zipper possibly being down to the disappearance of Hearn, who "must have snuck off to the bathroom."

The group concluded its first set with a signature medley of popular pop tunes. "I love pop music," Robertson declared, backing up his words by singing, rapping and dancing through Eminem's "The Real Slim Shady," DMX's "Party Up," Biz Markie's "Just a Friend," Blackstreet's "No Diggity," Kid Rock's "Bawitdaba," Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On," Madonna's "Music," Baha Men's "Who Let the Dogs Out" and the Bloodhound Gang's "The Bad Touch."

"I totally loved the ending," said Karri, a 25-year-old Chicago resident who preferred not to give her last name. "I like Ed; he's funny. He had the whole place barking with 'Who Let the Dogs Out.' "

For their encore, the Ladies came back in tranquil mode for their gorgeous ballad "What a Good Boy." Page ended the show on a more typical note, suggesting the crowd "stick around for a mass baptism into our cult."

Guster Blows 'Em Away

Guster's 40-minute show consisted almost entirely of ditties from their now year-old tour de force, Lost and Gone Forever, the best combination of roots rock and contagious pop since Barenaked Ladies' 1992 debut, Gordon.

The Boston trio showcased drummer Brian Rosenworcel's machine-gun hands (he doesn't sit down and rarely uses sticks on his assortment of bongos, congas and cymbals) on "I Spy," "Bury Me" and "Barrel of a Gun," before singer/ guitarist Ryan Miller and Adam Gardner stole the show with their harmonies on "Either Way."

"I actually liked Guster better," said Scott, a 30-year-old Boston native who refused to give his last name. "The Barenaked Ladies were great, too, but I thought Guster really played well tonight."

"Airport Song" the group's haunting breakthrough single from 1998's Goldfly, and the feel-good "Happier" were highlights, while the crowd also showed their admiration of current single "Fa Fa" by providing clapping percussion.

Barenaked Ladies and Guster will continue their tour Tuesday at the Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Mich. An Oct. 28 gig in Philadelphia is the final announced show, though more dates probably will be added.