Perhaps you've been at a show in which some people left believing they saw a concert of heroic proportions while others left just mildly impressed, saying they've seen better, like maybe a Skid Row/Whitesnake bill at a state fair in '88. But you would be hard pressed to find anyone who attended Saturday evening's Barenaked Ladies show at the Louisville Palace who wouldn't say they didn't have a great time. True, "great time" is a pretty innocuous term, even a bit vague. But that's what you have when you see a Barenaked Ladies concert - a great time. It's that simple, and it doesn't matter how many members are in the band.
Kicking off the show with a surprising choice, Testing 1-2-3, the band started nearly two hours of camaraderie among each other and the audience. If summer blockbuster movies are supposed to be pure escapism, a Barenaked Ladies concert is the musical equivalent. And much like an episode of Fat Albert, they come at you with music and fun, and if you're not careful, you may learn something before it's done.
Their mix of humor and sincerity could win over any crowd.
They played their biggest hits: One Week, Pinch Me, and If I Had a $1,000,000; that was appreciated but expected. (I always appreciate ...$1,000,000 because, yes, my first car was a nice Reliant automobile, a white 1985 model to be exact.) What wasn't expected were some interesting additions to the set list. The seldom played These Apples off their second album Maybe You Should Drive showed up much to the delight of bassist Jim Creegan, who previously lamented how they never did that one. The acoustic portion of the show is nothing new, but a handful of songs in the middle of the show provided some of the night's best moments.
With drummer Tyler Stewart on bongos, Creegan sang Pollywog in a Bog off their 2008 kid's CD Snacktime!. That was followed by a nicely done reworking of Sound of Your Voice. This one really featured their tight harmonies. Perhaps the night's most poignant moment came when Creegan joined lead singer Ed Robertson for a haunting rendering of one of their underrated gems When I Fall.
Throughout the show, the band didn't shy away from songs that former member Stephen Page originally sang lead vocals on; instead, it was almost like they made a concentrated effort to do those songs: The Old Apartment, Too Little Too Late, It's All Been Done Before, and Alcohol, which was played during the encore with Stewart on frantic and funny lead vocals and Robertson sitting in on drums.
Before the song, Stewart spoke about having allergies, which was the perfect red herring for fans expecting to hear the Snacktime! song Allergies, which also features a rare Stewart lead vocal. That is pretty exemplary of the band's live shows in that they you should prepare for unpredictability, but you also should know exactly what to expect. Paradoxial? Confusing? Well, you can always expect a spirited and happy show, but they are big on banter and (Robertson declaring that Louisville was a nice city that is "not just chicken and bats") and masters of improv as the ad-libbed rap during a peculiar cover of Pilot's Magic confirmed.
The concert was perfectly paced, which isn't always an easy thing to do. For example, they went from the upbeat 4 Seconds off the new All In Good Time CD right to the acoustic banjo-tinged Adrift off Barenaked Ladies Are Me. Throughout, they seemed to really be enjoying themselves - as was the crowd which was a wide cross-section of ages. Page's departure also gives Creegan and multi-instrumentalist Kevin Hearn more of a chance to shine. Hearn, who Robertson said "put the ‘ill' in Louisville" took over some of Page's vocal duties, but more so played keyboards, guitar, and accordion. His guitar solo that ends Pinch Me was impressive and seemingly effortless.
Another high point of the evening was their new single You Run Away. It is a powerful and emotional song. While its lyrics seem primarily aimed at Page, hearing it in person made me realize how songs can live a life of their own for each of us independent of what they meant to the songwriter. When Robertson sang, "When you're older, I'll look you in the eye," I looked at my eight-year-old son who was with me, and it gave me pause.
Those unfamiliar with the band beyond the hit singles may not be know the depths of their material. The evening ended on one of those weightier songs, What a Good Boy, originally a Page vocal. This time Robertson took it, and it worked. It remained earnest and vital - like good songs tend to do regardless of who is singing it or how much time has passed since it was written.
Opening act Ingrid Michaelson, who was joined by guitarists and vocalists Bess Rogers and Allie Moss, was - well, I'd use the word "delightful" if it didn't sound so cheesy and lame. Taking the stage, she showed off her good humor by saying, "Thank you for coming to see the Barenaked Ladies close for me." She then went into Soldier, a favorite on local station WFPK. She then told of a story of her blue sweater stolen by a drunken woman at Headliners the last time she played Louisville.
When she did Maybe, you realized that in a perfect world, it would be a Top 10 hit. She closed her seven-song set with a really interesting version of R.E.M.'s Nightswimming, in which she used vocal loops to supply or own layered sound. Her voice (well, all of them) filled the hall to great effect. While The Way I Am, which was made popular in an Old Navy commercial, seemed to get the biggest response, arguably her finest moment came on the ballad The Chain, when she, Rogers, and Moss harmonized in a rememorable and soothing echo. Her harmonies, sense of humor, and assessable personality is the perfect match for the Barenaked Ladies, but her stint on the tour was brief, and this was her last stop with them.
So, in addition to being a tight band with legitimate virtuosity on their instruments, Barenaked Ladies are a fun band that brought fun opening act along as well. They can certainly make you think, but they can nearly always make you smile. And there were quite a few smiles seen leaving the Palace Saturday evening.