Barenaked Ladies never did garner a large fan base in the UK. Massive worldwide hit “One Week” ensured that its parent album “Stunt” sold very well and many record buyer of the 90s remember it fondly. But The ‘Ladies are a band of 25 years with many great records and a great character that, until last week, I only knew as hearsay.
Having seen them live, I fully understand their appeal and longevity. This is a band who value fun and entertainment, cemented by some fantastically solid musicianship and stage presence.
The start was, I admit, a tad concerning. Following a very funny (yes, funny!) support act, aided no less by half the band members themselves, they opened with a track I wasn’t familiar with, while bounding and peacocking around with more than a nod to the 80s rock-school of stage presence. The playing and singing was superb but the whole thing was slightly, well, awkward, to modern and British sensibilities. Alas, this was somewhat the point, as I very quickly realised…
This was to be the most “fun” gig I have yet to see. Clearly, this band take their musicianship very seriously, but themselves not-so-much. This humility opened up as the gig went on, with actual warmth and humour in their brief between-song chatter, and later in the gig hilarious antics while playing. An acoustic middle section saw three of the band gather around a vintage-style mic, “shoo-wapping” along in perfect harmony to the guitarist’s main vocal, with 1960’s finger clicks and nods in tow. Everyone watching was smiling ear-to-ear and the carefully choreographed comedy moments brought belly laughs too.
Later in the gig we were treated to a pop medley that was both effortless, funny and yet retained musicality, (Britney and Will.i.Am covered with stupendously tight beat-boxing was a highlight). And here is the thing; it is because this band is so tight musically they can have fun with their playing without seeming cheap or tacky. Cheeky, not corny, is their MO and they pull it off beautifully. Oddly enough, I am surprised their UK following remains relatively small, as this kind of warm, knowing humour is very British .Perhaps the Canadian/English sensibilities really are as close as some claim?!
But back to the music. Undoubtedly, they have the songs – so many that I was left wanting for at least half a dozen of my favourites. But this is no bad thing. Their catalogue is large enough that they can cherry pick a set and still have stunners left over. In fact, the “essential” tracks (One Week and their “Big Bang” theme tune) were almost played a little obligingly, entirely unsurprising after so many years of both. Indeed, the energy and fresh feel to the set made me wonder if by shuffling their portfolio tour by tour, they are deftly avoiding the ennui that kills some long standing bands. And bravo to that!
These songs are played well. Very well. Every member a multi-instrumentalist, not a note nor a beat was dropped and their close harmonies are even more thrilling in person than on record. When they drop in a cover song, or just a cheeky song reference mid track, it often eclipsed the original song even in an ostensibly throw-away state (cough, Britney, cough).
Simple minds were playing next door in the main arena that evening. This was not ignored. A cheeky pastiche number, penned it would seem for this evening alone, aped the rhythm and style of the big boys next door, with the main vocal quite purposefully sung *just* under the note, enough to make this muso chuckle with glee. Yet it came across as a charming nod, a bit of fun, rather than a swipe.
While I have focused on some of the comedy moments, the straighter songs retained the right amount of heft. Beautiful ballads and rockier numbers were well balanced; this is a serious band with serious talent. Which makes them all the more willing and happy to relax and have fun on stage. The fact this translated to the audience so readily is credit to their professionalism.
I pretty much summed up my review in one short tweet that evening –
“Last night I saw the incredible @barenakedladies live – quite possibly the coolest un-cool band ever! Loved it!!”
And the most magical thing is this – the band Retweeted it! Nice move boys…nice move…