SameDiff BNL

Rock's Loony-Tunes

By DAN AQUILANTE,, February 17th, 2001.

THAT was no lady — that was the funniest, most irreverent rock band ever to play Madison Square Garden. In front of a sellout crowd at the arena Thursday, Canada's Barenaked Ladies stripped the veneer of serious art off of the rock show and turned a concert into a musical vaudeville event.

It's hard to conceive that such smart, whimsical music is being delivered by five refugees from dork city with bad haircuts, dressed alike in matching blue-checked short-sleeved shirts and baggy patent-leather trousers.

Deceiving looks, loose-screw stage patter and unselfconscious mannerisms from Steven Page and Ed Robertson (the Ladies' front men) are the band's secret weapons.

You can't help but wear a big goofy smile watching the BNL two-hour act that makes you think that this is what Spinal Tap would be like after staying in Pee-wee's Playhouse.

Take the "this is not a drum solo" drum solo. As the percussions rumbled in Phil Collins flurries on stage, on the video screen the crowd can spy on the rest of the band off-stage yawning, falling asleep and growing beards.

This kind of self-deprecating humor and poking fun at rock conventions illustrated the value these guys place on a full entertainment package, not just stepping on stage and cranking out 20 tunes.

The show opened with the band emerging from the mouth of a three-story inflatable head for the song "Too Little, Too Late" from the recent "Maroon" disc.

While that song's reedy harmonies and jangly guitar-powered arrangement were typical of the entire set, BNL got the biggest smiles and loudest cheers (and, in fact, were at their best) the deeper they wandered into their songbook.

Oldies such as the infectious "One Week" (the number that ignited the Ladies' career in the United States) and the love song "If I Had $1 million" were the stuff this dream concert was made of.

While the "Maroon" material is the musical equal of those early songs from "Stunt," lyrically, the new songs are more introspective.

While the focus of the group is clearly on Page and Robertson, who'd be a comedy team it they couldn't play music, the rest of them get in on the act whenever they can.

Like during one of the BNL's free-style raps. The best of these the other night was about Regis Philbin taking a fancy to their pants earlier in the day when BNL played his morning talk show.

Most of the band members did their best impressions of Philbin, saying the line, "I like those trousers," which eventually erupted into an emcee match between Robertson and Page as the raps orbited the phrase "Regis wants to touch the Ladies pants."

At one point, finding himself alone on the stage, pianist Kevin Hearn launched a pounding Wagnerian rendering that eventually revealed itself to be Britney Spears' "Oops! I Did It Again." As he tendered the words, he managed to look extremely guilty about his "oops" and sound perverse in his dry delivery.

Drummer Tyler Stewart may be the biggest ham in the BNL smokehouse. Whenever he is unchained from his kit, the man seems impossible to contain.

At one point late in the concert, when Robertson was earnestly attempting to explain how nothing could capture the excitement and exultation the band felt from playing and selling out the Garden, Stewart charged center stage doing a happy dance. "That might come close," Robertson remarked, deadpan, watching Tyler's spectacle.

This is a unique act in rock. The Ladies have excellent chops, interesting lyrics and a silly free-for-all attitude. Who'd expect so much good, clean fun from a bunch of Barenaked Ladies?