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By JASON MACNEIL, Toronto Sun, June 18th, 2003.

Ladies' frontman gives big thumbs up for his Toronto.

When Barenaked Ladies lead singer Stephen Page was asked about participating in this Saturday's Concert For Toronto, he immediately agreed. But he initially had some suspicions about the main purpose behind it.

"I was nervous early on that this was going to be some kind of re-election campaign for the Eves government, which I wasn't going to be a part of," Page says on the line from Los Angeles. "But a lot of that has been smoothed out.

"We're happy to go out there and entertain people and make people feel good about our city. But I want to make sure that this isn't the only assistance that people are going to get.

"There's something to be said about entertainment and feeling good about our culture but there's also something to be said about getting jobs and not losing your apartment."

The band will appear just prior to The Tragically Hip Saturday evening before 50,000 people at the SkyDome. Swollen Members, Sum 41, Our Lady Peace and Avril Lavigne will precede them.

Sarah McLachlan, Diana Krall, Jann Arden, Glenn Lewis and Remy Shand will perform in front of 20,000 at the Air Canada Centre.

Page says the band spent most of the past few months in Los Angeles working on a new studio album with occasional weekend trips back to Toronto. He also saw the effect SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) had by simply travelling between the two cities.

"Sometimes you would go and the flight is totally empty and for a couple of weeks it was like that, Pearson (airport) was empty," he says. "Then the first time they said SARS was gone, the flights were packed and then they started to peter out again when the second wave showed up."

Despite the setbacks at home, Page says he's very excited about the new album, currently untitled but with a release set for late September. Unlike previous albums that usually took four months to finish, the band began writing last September and, for the first time, as a unit. It's just a matter now of selecting which of the 30 songs belong.

"It's a lot to pick and choose from," he says. "You go into the studio and you're thinking, 'Have I lost my mind? Do I have no talent left or is it the best thing I've done?' Now that we're mixing, it's beginning to sound like a record that is great."

Page says the sound could be compared somewhat to the band's debut album Gordon.

"I think our first album had a lot of large sound sweeps that we're trying to capture a little more on this record," he says.

"I think the peripheral songs will go one of two ways. Some is the most aggressive rock stuff we've ever done. A little bit Stonesy, punky edge to it. The other side of the coin is some of the most acoustic stuff we've ever done. I'm not sure what the balance of the record is going to be but hopefully we can find a balance between the two styles."

The group will do a benefit show at the upcoming Hillside Festival in July, donating their services to create a permanent stage at the site. A few other festival shows take place this summer prior to touring in the fall.

But Page says one thing still has him baffled regarding SARS.

"I've always been mystified by people's suspicions of doctors and public-health officials, but they're willing to trust me or Mike Myers over something as important as public health."