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Bluesfest Review: Barenaked Ladies

By Terry Steeves on July 21, 2014

Canada’s beloved Barenaked Ladies took the stage with a lengthy performance that lasted nearly an hour and a half. They are known for their comedic stage show antics, made-up-on-the-spot songs, medley covers, 4-part acoustic routines, great harmonies, and very catchy original material, making this band always a must-see. Tonight they played for an enormous crowd, which stretched nearly the entire length of the main Bluesfest grounds, who tremendously enjoyed everything this band of four delivered.

The Barenaked Ladies was born from the duo songwriting efforts of schoolmates, Ed Robertson and Steven Page. They began by taking gigs to shows where, relatively unrehearsed, they would improvise by drawing on songs they both knew, combined with comedic stage banter. This would serve as a precedent for their signature stage shows involving song cover medleys and humorous antics.

Their first release was a basement tape entitled, Bucknaked (1989) containing songs the two had written and recorded on a 4-track recorder. Another tape would follow, Barenaked Lunch (1990), which incorporated two new members, bassist Jim Creeggan, and his percussionist brother Andy Creeggan, to make up a full band unit. Andy was replaced by Tyler Stewart on drums, after leaving on a student exchange trip. He later returned to assume the role of keyboardist and percussionist, expanding the group to five members.

Their first successful recording which generated enormous recognition for them, was their third tape release, simply referred to as The Yellow Tape (1991). Originally recorded for demo purposes, they had initially tried and failed to sign with various record labels, so they brought the tapes to their shows for people to purchase afterward. They sold like hotcakes, and the demand was so great, fans went to record stores in droves to look for them, who in turn, created the need for distribution on a grander scale. In 1992, they signed with Sire Records and released their first, full-scale album entitled, Gordon. Problems recording one of the tracks were solved by the boys stripping down naked, which lent an outrageous nervous energy. Since then, they’ve continued the tradition of recording one track in the nude.

The band has seen some tumultuous activity, with the departure of Andy Creeggan in 1995, and subsequently with Steven Page in 2009. Kevin Hearn replaced Creeggan on keyboards, bringing the band back to a 4-piece configuration. Their newest effort, Grinning Streak (2013), has an air of fresh confidence, with richly developed material, including, “Limits”, “Did I Say That Out Loud”, “Keepin’ It Real”, “Gonna Walk”, and the very catchy, “Odds Are”, which was made into a fun music video, displaying the lads as news anchors. All four songs were played at the concert.

BNL keyboardist, Kevin Hearn (who also plays guitar and accordion), and Ed Robertson (lead vocals/guitar).

BNL keyboardist, Kevin Hearn (who also plays guitar and accordion), and Ed Robertson (lead vocals/guitar).

The four lads walked onto the stage, dressed for the cottage in their jeans and plaid shirts. They kicked into “Limits”, from their current CD, followed by “Never Enough” (Stunt – 1998), and heavy favorite, “Pinch Me” (Maroon – 2000).

The song flowed into a signature improv by Robertson, as he rapped about being fellow Ontarians, happy to be performing at Bluesfest. From there, the ride continued to a very hick couple of choruses of GNR’s “Paradise City”.

Similar upcoming antics like this included a quick delve into Queen‘s “Flash”, inducing laughter from both the audience and the band themselves. Later, Robertson would comment how on this beautiful and sunny day, he had spent it eating perogies and playing pinball at House Of Targ, which he spun into a few bars of the Blues.

The versatility of the band members’ talents was displayed with Hearns stepping off the keys and strapping on a guitar to perform “Sound Of Your Voice” (Barenaked Ladies Are Me – 2006), while Stewart got up from the drums to join the other lads in three part harmony, huddled around one microphone. At one point, the three brought this tender song vocally to a feverish and hilarious crescendo, followed by an abrupt stop, garnering much laughter from the audience. Many more favorites would follow, including “Brian Wilson”, “Big Bang Theory” theme song, “One Week”, and of course the iconic, “If I Had A Million Dollars”.

The show ended with an ode to some heavy rock, with the Violent Femmes cover, “Blister In The Sun”, and Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love”, both fronted by Stewart, while Robertson climbed behind the drums. This was a thoroughly entertaining show on many levels. It is clear that these four definitely have a love of bringing the fun factor into their recorded material and into their performances, taking the audience along for the ride.