SameDiff BNL

All Their Flaws Are Laid Bare

By TOM KIELTY, Boston Globe, July 23rd, 2001.

Tweeter Center, Mansfield
Saturday, July 21, 2001

Boston's love affair with Barenaked Ladies is tried and true. From the pandemonium surrounding their 1998 City Hall Plaza appearance, for which some 80,000 fans showed up, to two sold-out nights at the FleetCenter to usher in this new year, the region's love of the Ladies is undeniable.

But a sold-out performance at the Tweeter Center on Saturday night still does not answer the question, "Why?" The Canadian five-piece played a nearly two-hour set that demonstrated an undeniable talent for pop melodies but at the same time seemed as focused on the vaudevillian comedy as the music.

"We're glad to finally play Boston," guitarist Ed Robertson joked at the beginning of the evening, "We always seem to miss it."

Clad in hip postlounge attire, the band then launched into "The Old Apartment," a fan favorite that found Robertson and guitarist/singer/cofounder Steven Page enthusiastically demonstrating some fancy footwork.

The fact that any edges to the song had been sanded into listener-friendly curves did not seem to dishearten the devoted, who happily bopped along to the song's message of melancholy.

Barenaked Ladies enjoy a remarkable intimacy with their audience, nearly every selection providing some opportunity for audience singalong. Even their seemingly well-rehearsed stage banter is user friendly. Robertson at one point used a fan banner to work himself, Page, and drummer Tyler Stewart into an excited discussion of white meat, the survival film "Alive," and finally robotic dogs. The robotic-dog chat led into a jammy improvisation reminiscent of Phish's earliest inanities, which fans embraced wholeheartedly.

This reaction begs the question: Which came first, the music or the jokes? During moments such as "Alcohol," when Stewart and bassist Jim Creeggan locked into a substantial groove, the band seemed inspired. At other points, however, the band's shtick was so sappy, fans' feet appeared stuck to the floor (perhaps this accounted for the minimal dancing in the Tweeter pavilion seats).

To their credit the band continues to explore new possibilities in an attempt to move beyond novelty fame. "Too Little, Too Late" was a sincere swipe at alt-country, and keyboardist Kevin Hearn provided tasteful touches throughout the evening, though one wonders what inspires a solo comprised of stadium organ standards and the theme to a 1970s Old Spice television commercial.

Page's take on white-boy soul, "Shoebox," would be an ambitious undertaking for most singers, and if the audience response validated a valiant effort he should nonetheless rest assured that this was not an effort that would sell in Memphis. The band then discussed the recent goings-on in Provincetown regarding nude beaches, prompting a prolonged video image of a male fan in Barenaked halter top, before closing out their set with the hit "If I Had a Million Dollars."

The encore rolled quickly toward the inevitable evening closer, "Brian Wilson." As the group contemplated the troubled genius behind the Beach Boys, it occurred that an ode to Jimmy Buffett might have been more appropriate.

Vertical Horizon warmed up attendees' vocal chords with their own audience-participatory hit, "Everything You Want," while BNL's Canadian countrywoman Sarah Harmer shone in the evening's first, criminally under attended set.