Barenaked Ladies – September 18, 2011 – California Theatre, San Bernardino

Well, another Barenaked Ladies show….

I think I’ve seen them at least 20 and maybe as many as 30 times in the past eighteen years or so.  I was commenting in the car on the way home that it’s sort of interesting to have a followed a band so closely for so long and watched the ebb and flow of their career in the process.  The first time I saw them was around 1994 at the Coach House and honestly, tonight the crowd of San Bernardino  would have likely fit into that venue instead of rattling around in the large California Theatre in San Bernardino.  The five of us were in the Balcony, which was maybe half full.  I couldn’t get a good view of the floor, but assume that it was full and we’re talking maybe 750 people.  I recall seeing them headline a shows at Honda Center, Irvine Meadows and the Wiltern…I mean they never drew like Springsteen, but they had respectable crowds that seem to have dwindled back down to the hardcore.   And the curious, who included the older couple in front of us (older than me even) who walked out about halfway through.

Now, to their credit, crowd size didn’t seem top faze the band who played a solid set that walked the line between the hits and the rarities for the folks like me who get thrilled to hear (relative) obscurities like “Some Fantastic” and “Who Needs Sleep?” get dusted off.  That being said, the mix on “Who Needs Sleep” left a lot to be desired and was a bit of a wreck to start the show.  When someone who owns all of your albums isn’t quite sure what you’re playing at first….that’s not really a cracking start.  The engineer sorted things a bit and it settled down to a kick heavy, slightly muddy mix up top at our seats.

I guess now is a good time to address the biggest elephant in the room…the lack of Steve Page.  This is the second show I’ve seen in the “post-Page era”.  The remaining four put on an entertaining show and if you’d never seen them with Steve, I suspect you’d really not be that bothered.  But, for as much as I love them as a group….I miss Steve.  He and Ed had a terrific rapport and there was a magic that happened pretty much every night I ever saw them.  Ad libs, asides…they presented (on the face at least) of two good friends who were having a blast playing music.  Heck, they all came across that way then.  While the guys now obviously enjoy playing together, a bit of the same spark is gone.  When Ed ad libs a rap about San Bernardino and Route 66, the old fan in me is waiting for Steve to jump in with his own rhyme and riff off of Ed, or vice versa.  Ed is still talented, but like Bruce playing with the E Street Band, there is a magic that a group of old friends playing together creates that no amount of talent can cover alone (or at least in the same way).

All that is said without addressing the missing voice of Steve.  I’d say he had the best voice of the whole group and there is a hole in the harmony where he should be.  Tyler (the drummer) has improved his vocals….but, with his “enthusiasm” in singing Alcohol as the first encore…it was a bit of an acquired taste…(code for not very good…sorry Ty.)  The same with Kevin and Jim, both have unique and non-traditional vocal styles….not bad, but also different.  I just really noticed the hole where Steve’s voice would have filled in and made some of the songs work better.

With the Steve comments out of the way….Was the show entertaining? Yes…

They opened with “Who Needs Sleep” and then a nice take on “The Old Apartment” and “Get In Line”.  Ed did an Ad Lib Rap about the “R” in San Bernardino, Route 66 and the car show that was held outside the theatre earlier.  After that “Easy”, “Let there be Light” (a bonus track off the last CD that threw me for a bit).  Then came one of my all time favorites “Some Fantastic”….And any song that can include the line: “Much like pheromones for flies, you will not avoid my eyes…” rates pretty high on the awesome scale.  That’s one of the coolest things about the band, their lyrics are highly literate, very fun and from out of leftfield quite often….Amongst the words in tonights show alone…(besides pheromones)….” pedagogue”, “Australopithecus” and “obfuscate”.  And, every one of those not only rhymed….they fit perfectly into each song…(In order: “Brian Wilson”, “Big Bang Theory” and “Easy”).

Up next was a clever reworking of “Sound of Your Voice” with Kevin on lead, “I Can Sing” (from their children’s CD, Snacktime), “Brian Wilson”, “Am I the Only One”, “Too Little, Too Late”, “It’s all been Done” and “On the Lookout”.  Tough for a band to cover a whole career, but I was surprised that the CD “Everything to Everyone” was completely left out.  I guess it’s a luck of the draw thing…There were a lot more from “Stunt” and “Maroon” than I would have ever predicted.

They had a strong finish that even a casual fan would have no trouble recognizing…”Big Bang Theory”, “One Week”, “Pinch Me” and “If I had a MIllion Dollars”….solid stuff.  They came out of Million Dollars with the traditional BNL Rap, something I was glad to see they kept even without Steve (who used to just nail it on “Memories” or “My Heart Will Go On”.)  Tonight’s rap started with “It’s Magic” (The old Pilot song from the 70’s) then snippets of “Forget You”, “Rolling in the Deep”, “I Got A Feeling”, “Born this Way” and “Firework”.  Alongside the mash up was some fancy footwork by Ty, Jim and Ed….hard to describe….so, here’s a video from a few weeks ago that pretty much has the same arrangement….

And this is from last year, so slightly different songs, but really well edited and good quality.

They came back for a couple encores….The Tyler version of “Alcohol” and “Tonight is the Night I Fell Asleep at the Wheel”.  Sort of an odd ending really.  A song sung by the drummer and a song about dying in a car crash.  Pretty non-traditional…I can sort of see what they were going for, but it felt slight;y awkward unless you’re a rabid fan.

As much as I love them and enjoyed the show, it had it’s flaws.  Maybe that’s okay for a band that’s comfortable in it’s own world, and maybe they are just accepting that the hardcores like me will keep showing up and not worrying about trying to climb the huge top 40 mountain again.  I guess that for some of us we’ve still not quite moved on yet from such a huge change in the dynamic of the group.  They have to rely on a lot of hits that were made by someone who isn’t there anymore and the comparisons are very difficult not to make.  I know that bands make changes, and people move on….and as I said up top, if you’d never seen them before you’d have had a great time tonight….

As for me, I may still be one stage short of “acceptance” in the grieving process and still mourning slightly the memories of one of my favorite bands and how they aren’t quite the same anymore.

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