Barenaked Ladies entertain with silliness, pop culture, classic tunes

The Barenaked Ladies entertained 2,000 Central Alberta fans Monday night with jokes about mall food outlet “Manchu Rock.” Songs from Taylor Swift, Queen and Disney’s Frozen were wrapped into a diverse medley, and a bear stuffie was batted out into the stands with a guitar neck.

The Barenaked Ladies entertained 2,000 Central Alberta fans Monday night with jokes about mall food outlet “Manchu Rock.” Songs from Taylor Swift, Queen and Disney’s Frozen were wrapped into a diverse medley, and a bear stuffie was batted out into the stands with a guitar neck.

After 27 year and 11 albums, no one can accuse Barenaked Ladies of skimping on silliness.

The band once banned from playing at Toronto’s City Hall because of its puerile moniker has been around the world and back since last playing in Red Deer way back in 1993. It’s won seven Junos, lost former lead singer Steven Page in 2009, and recorded the theme of the TV show The Big Bang Theory.

But the four remaining group members are still athletically jumping around on stage (if understandably less so than when they were 22 years younger) and trading irreverent, nonsensical quips, like: “He puts the ear in Red Deer!” (said singer/guitarist Ed Robertson about keyboardist Kevin Hearn.)

Grey-bearded Robertson had other quirky moments, bantering about moustache-growing ‘Movember’ and the “liberating” aspect of tossing away unused toiletries.

After spotting an alarmingly uninhibited guy free-form dancing through the crowd, he shouted, “I love that man! I am deeply in love with that man!”

There were also many musical non sequiturs, such as rapid-fire word play in the off-the-cuff rap song Egg Foo Yong, in which “minor-league hockey” was rhymed with “that’s Jim Creeggan, he’s anything but stocky,” referring to the group’s rail-thin bassist.

But BNL fans are used to glib groaners. After all, the band gave us: “But not a real green dress, that’s cruel” from If I Had a $1,000,000 and “They say that absence makes the heart grow fungus” from Blame It On Me.

Both songs got a huge reception from the Red Deer crowd — especially If I Had a 1,000,000 in which BNL was joined by opening act Alan Doyle and his band the Beautiful Gypsies to create hearty, rollicking harmonies. Fans bobbed along in the stands and danced behind the floor seats.

Wackiness aside, BNL was very entertaining instrumentally — from Creeggan’s maniacal stand-up bass playing to Hearn’s dreamy keyboards and Tyler Stewart’s distinctive drumming. And the veteran musicians showed the comfortable camaraderie forged from a quarter-century of turmoil and togetherness.

They didn’t hold back, performing a long list of hits (who knew there were so many?) including Pinch Me, One Week, Falling For the First Time, Brian Wilson, Boomerang and The Old Apartment.

For the most part, Robertson capably carried the main vocals with support from Creeggan and other band members. It was only on the older hits that Page’s high, nasal voice was missed. But there wasn’t much time to think about it, since the musicians plowed ahead with For You, Get Back Up, Did I Say That Out Loud and the audience participation song Gonna Walk.

Catchier tunes from the new album Silverball, including Duct Tape Heart and Passcode, were served up — as was a cover of Bruce Cockburn’s Lovers in a Dangerous Time, with Doyle. It provided a brief change from the breezy, even tempo-ed BNL repertoire.

It also made me wonder what else this group could have done it if hadn’t painted itself into a corner, with its joke-y and ironic BNL persona … Well, novelty bands don’t survive as long as this one has, and that in itself says all you need to know about a group that’s committed to silliness but wields significant musical chops.

The resilient Toronto band ended the concert with a Wayne’s World moment: Stewart traded places with Robertson, unleashing his hair-raising metal rock voice, and pulling off some Ozzy-like moves centre stage.

And you know what? It kinda worked for him.

Doyle, formerly of Great Big Sea, and his five-person backing band the Beautiful Gypsies were a strong, high-energy opening act.

The singer is carrying on with the Celtic music tradition of his native Newfoundland. Along with Calgary-born violin sensation Kendel Carson, guitarist Cory Tetford, keyboardist Todd Lumley, drummer Kris Macfarlane, and bassist Shehab Illyas, Doyle won big cheers from the crowd — including many former East-coasters — for tunes such as So Let’s Go and the haunting Laying Down to Perish.

The group also performed some Great Big Sea material — Sea of No Cares and Ordinary Day — which had fans up on their feet, clapping and foot tapping along.

Doyle gave some love back to Red Deer while recounting how he and the gang went running earlier in the day through the city’s parks. Although he wasn’t awestruck by Kin Kanyon (“If you don’t mind my saying, it’s not much of a canyon”), Doyle called Red Deer’s trail system “one of the most beautiful things we’ve seen this trip. It was awesome!”

So was the concert.

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com

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