SameDiff BNL

Barenaked in America

By JOHN PETRAKIS, Zap2it, October 2000.

Concert films begat documentaries, and documentaries begat rockumentaries, and rockumentaries begat mockumentaries, until we've reached the point where the whole rock movie genre is pretty much up for grabs.

Take "Barenaked in America," Jason Priestly's close-up-and-personal look at the Canadian band Barenaked Ladies, whose music mixes elements of rock, pop, country and folk, with just a smidgen of jazz.

While the purpose of this lighthearted film would seem to be introducing this not-quite-mainstream band to a larger, south-of-the-border audience, it does so in an offhanded, almost goofy way that presents more backstage and on-the-road high jinks than actual performance.

Is this a selling tool? Are kids going to buy their records because of the way they act on tour buses? Are they looking for bands they can identify with, above and beyond the music itself? These are intriguing questions that suggest a lot about modern-day marketing techniques.

The band itself is quite good, with plenty of melodic tunes thick with clever lyrics. (They remind me of the 1960s band Country Joe and the Fish.) I especially like an early song of theirs titled "Be My Yoko Ono."

What sets these guys apart, however, is that they don't look or act like a traditional rock band. The talented lead singer is pudgy and round (remember The Turtles?), the lead guitarist is more philosopher than sex symbol and the back-up players come across as pleasant, hard-working musicians, including the keyboard player, who is returning to the band after a bout with leukemia - an issue that is addressed directly and with sensitivity.

Whatever the overall intention of the film, it succeeds in showcasing the music, which is the band's ultimate selling point. It may not be "The Last Waltz" or "Stop Making Sense," but "Barenaked in America" is a welcome respite from the high-volume ugliness of rock extravaganza.