SameDiff BNL

Barenaked Ladies Dress Up Their Shows With Antics

By JOHN SOEDER,, July 13th, 2001.

Ed Robertson has resigned himself to the fact that some people are never going to take his band seriously — at least not with a name like Barenaked Ladies.

"We'll always carry misconceptions," he said. "We like to do silly things. It's a whole side of who we are and we don't shut it out from what we do. We goof around a lot. But it only serves to enhance the depth that is also there."

In concert, these fun-loving Canadian pop-rockers routinely break into cheesy Top 40 medleys, improvise hilarious raps and slip into underwear that gets thrown onstage. They also dodge uncooked macaroni tossed by fans in response to a line about Kraft Dinner in the rags-to-riches ditty "If I Had $1,000,000," although the band has attempted to raise awareness about the hazards of playing with food. "Handguns are next," Robertson said.

Without going into detail, he promised more madcap antics when BNL (as devotees refer to the quintet) performs Monday at Blossom Music Center.

"It's going to be an unprecedented display of musical creativity and live excitement," said Robertson, 30. He checked in by phone last week from a lakeside cottage three hours north of the band's hometown of Toronto, where he was enjoying some pre-tour R&R with his wife Natalie and their children, Hannah, 5, and Lyle, 1.

"We try hard to make every show different," said Robertson, who shares singing and guitar-strumming duties with Steven Page. The high-school pals formed Barenaked Ladies in 1988. Rounding out the group are drummer Tyler Stewart, bassist Jim Creeggan and keyboardist Kevin Hearn.

Long before the rest of the United States jumped on the BNL bandwagon, Northeast Ohio was a stronghold for the group.

"Because of the proximity to our hometown, we always crossed through Ohio to get wherever we were going," Robertson said. "There are fans in Ohio from way, way back, which is nice for us. The fans there have that sense of history. We know we can play some older stuff... and really stretch out."

They recently recorded four new tunes, possibly for inclusion on a forthcoming compilation that will feature one CD of hits and a bonus disc of B-sides and other rarities. They plan to head back into the studio in March to begin work on a new album.

Their latest release, "Maroon," finds chief songwriters Robertson and Page filtering their trademark sense of humor through a dark lens on "Tonight Is the Night I Fell Asleep at the Wheel," a macabre love song crooned from the perspective of a guy who just died in a car crash. Toss in a couple of upbeat numbers about matters of the heart ("Go Home" and "Falling for the First Time"), a Burt Bacharach-style ballad about a one-night stand ("Conventioneers") and a show tune ("Sell, Sell, Sell") that sounds like an outtake from a Broadway musical and you have a mature, well-rounded effort.

"Maroon" was named best album and BNL was named best group at the Juno Awards in March, Canada's version of the Grammy Awards.

"I'm proud of the record," said Robertson. "I want lots of people to hear it.

"The reviews were amazing. I hoped it would sell more records, just because Stunt' did so well. But it certainly hasn't done poorly."

"Maroon" has sold 970,000 copies since it came out last September, according to SoundScan. "Stunt," the 1998 album that sent BNL to the top of the charts on the strength of the tongue-twisting single "One Week," sold 3.5 million copies.

At the height of the band's breakthrough success three years ago, Hearn underwent treatment for leukemia, including a bone-marrow transplant. He has been cancer-free nearly two years, according to Robertson. "Kevin is doing great," he said.

The band's first recording, a five-song cassette, was released independently in 1991. Songs from that EP resurfaced on the group's 1992 major-label debut, "Gordon," including "Be My Yoko Ono," "Brian Wilson" and "If I Had $1,000,000."

Two more studio efforts, "Maybe You Should Drive" (1994) and "Born on a Pirate Ship" (1996), were followed by the live album "Rock Spectacle" (1996), which yielded a touching modern-rock hit in "The Old Apartment."

"Rock Spectacle" was a confidence-booster for Robertson, even more so than the multiplatinum "Stunt."

"When the live record started to do well, I thought, Wow, people really like us,' " he said. "I've always had to work really hard at songwriting. But I guess I've become more competent and more confident in the results."

There's no telling where he'll come across an idea for another tune.

"All kinds of things inspire me now," he said. "Ping-Pong inspires me. I've been watching a lot of films lately, too. I just watched Dr. Strangelove' again and I was kind of on a Coen Brothers kick. I watched Raising Arizona' and Fargo' — great, great, great movies.

"I've also been getting into boating, canoeing and kayaking, just trying to relax and enjoy myself. Musically, I really like the new John Hiatt record, the new Shawn Colvin record and the Sarah Harmer record."

As for the music of Barenaked Ladies, band members aim to please themselves first and foremost.

"Most of the pressure is internal now, just in terms of pushing ourselves to present the goods," said Robertson. "I don't feel the pressure of the industry anymore. I feel we've hit all the various milestones. We've managed to get Grammy nominations. We have multiplatinum records. At this point, I'm just trying to be creative and make music that's interesting to me and write songs that are rewarding to me. That's all I can do."