SameDiff BNL

Having Fun And Making Sure The Audience Is, Too

By ALLEN LUNDE, The Buzz — Chico CA, August 21st, 2001.

A word of warning from the start, this is not going to be an objective review. Traveling down to Marysville to see the Barenaked Ladies concert, I was not so much a reporter going after a story, as a supplicant on a pilgrimage. I have way surpassed the state where I would call myself a fan. I am moving dangerously close to the freak stage.

For those of you who don't keep up with what's happening on the American music scene, Barenaked Ladies is a dynamic pop band descended upon us from Canada. Considering that the last great Canadian music invasion came in the form of Loverboy, pretty much anything would have been an improvement.

BNL is far more than an improvement. They are in my opinion the best "young" band performing today. I put young in quotes because the band has been together since 1988 and have dominated the Canadian music scene for most of the time. (Yes, there is a Canadian music scene.) Their particular brand of pop combines catchy melody, instrumental virtuosity and clever, sometimes remarkable lyrics. Upon first listening to a BNL record (what we old guys call CDs) you might find yourself tapping your toe and humming to a song, when you suddenly realize the singer is chronicling his own descent into madness. That juxtaposition of pop dynamics and social commentary make the listening experience completely satisfying.

That's not to say that a BNL show is intended to be a socially enlightening experience. Unlike most of their contemporaries, the band does not go in for being morose. Their concerts are about the joy they feel playing music together. Perhaps it was their struggle to gain acceptance in the United States. Perhaps it is the perspective they gained when they almost lost their keyboard player to leukemia, just as they were breaking through. The overwhelming feeling you get from the band is that they really are glad to be up there playing. They're having fun and they want you to have fun, too.

Last Wednesday night they succeeded in that goal. The audience consisted of too-cool young hipsters and dino-rockers like myself. The band managed to win over punksters and the family crowd at the same time, without any compromise in musical standards. These guys are just good. Good music transcends all forms.

My favorite part of a Barenaked Ladies concert are the songs they make up on the spot. They often succeed at this without many in the audience realizing that they are making it up as they go along. I just happen to know every word to every song they've ever recorded, so they have a more difficult time pulling the wool over my eyes. At one point lead guitarist and singer Ed Robertson mused about the difficult choice faced by a musician, when in the middle of a popular song, an insect is crawling down your face towards your mouth, "Do I keep on rocking... or do I address the bug?" The issue was then explored further in a five-minute impromtu rap that ended with an insect invasion that turned all of our oranges green. No, it wasn't great art, but it was a spontaneous burst of musicianship that is lacking in far too many of today's pre-packaged rock shows. Later the audience was equally thrilled at lead singer Steve Page's lively ode to "keeping it real" and "taking it to another level."

I probably should mention that many in the audience were excited to see opening act, The Proclaimers. I enjoyed their performance and they're Scottish, so no complaints here. Nevertheless, it was time not spent watching the Barenaked Ladies. (I think I may be channeling a 14-year-old girl at a 'N Sync concert)

There were in fact three opening acts. One a talented female singer songwriter whose name I can't bother to remember, so let's call her Alanis Jewel Difranco. Every town of moderate size has two or three of these clones, and I didn't see the point here. Except to pad the show and make everyone feel they were getting their money's worth. They needn't have bothered.

Action Figure Party performed on the alternate second stage. They must be good because Ed Robertson of BNL came out to lead the audience, a la the Pied Piper, to their performance. At the time I was emotionally involved with a terrific hot-link sandwich and so missed their act. The truth was that I was there to see the main act, which managed to leave all the others in the dust.

I have during my 40 years on this planet obsessed about four different musical acts: The Beach Boys, The Who, Prince and Barenaked Ladies. Anyone who can find the common theme in these acts is encouraged to call my analyst. About two years ago I first heard BNL on the radio. Within nine months I owned every record they had ever produced. I think they are the best there is. Next time they roll this way I suggest you get a ticket — but please wait until I have mine.