#638: BNL

GETTING MORE TALE #638: BNL

First year of university involved “frosh week”.  All the new students would have events and basically just party for a week.  I wasn’t into that and I only attended the first night.  It concluded with an Australian comedy band playing some amusing novelty songs.  Wish I could remember their name.

My friend Andy, who was accepted at  the University of Waterloo, had different entertainment for frosh week.  “We had this shitty band called Barenaked Ladies,” he told me.  Barenaked Ladies?  The fuck was that?

Barenaked Ladies were an acoustic group from Scarborough Ontario who specialised in quirky and often humorous original songs.  Little did I know that their Yellow Tape demo was making waves.  I was focused on what was happening in Canadian metal.  It didn’t take long after that Waterloo gig for the band to gain national awareness.  Their excellent cover of Bruce Cockburn’s “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” got a nation wide release on a tribute album called Kick at the Darkness. The quintessentially Canadian music video was in constant rotation.

And for comparison:

The Cockburn cover was impressive.  It showed off the central vocal harmonies of Steven Page and Ed Robertson, and it was obvious the band were schooled on their instruments.  Barenaked Ladies didn’t focus on mainstream instruments, preferring double bass and congas.

My sister became a fan quickly, and when their first official album Gordon was released in ’92, she dove right in.  Before long she had a vast collection of Barenaked rarities, including a bootleg tape she recorded herself at a Kitchener show.  Some of the bands’ most popular songs with fans were not on Gordon, such as “McDonalds Girl” and the Public Enemy cover “Fight the Power”.

I casually followed the band along with her, appreciating their lyrical cleverness and occasional emotional depth.  I helped her collect rarities at record shows.  She sent pianist/percussionist Andy Creeggan a vintage 1977 Darth Vader sticker to put on his congas.  And he did.  And it can be seen in some video footage if you look hard enough.

I went to see them with her on their 1996 Born on a Pirate Ship tour.  I was impressed with a lot of their new songs, especially the intense “Straw Hat and Old Dirty Hank”, a track about an Anne Murray stalker. They played it live at that show (which featured Mike Smith aka “Bubbles” in opening band Sandbox).

As soon as Steven Page hit the stage, he seemed to be simmering.  He was dressed in his goofy shorts as usual, but he seemed…angry?  Intense.  It really came out in “Straw Hat and Old Dirty Hank” which boiled over.  I gained a real appreciation for the band that night, and also for Steven Page as an artist.  Whatever was bothering him that day (if that was indeed the case), he poured it into the show.  It was an incredible night.

Unfortunately for us, Barenaked Ladies evolved into the mainstream over the years.  Both of us lost interest as they changed.  Andy Creeggan left the band after their second album Maybe You Should Drive, which meant the congas were gone.  Jim Creeggan traded his big stand up bass for an electric more often.  The emotion seemed to drain from their albums as time went on.

I wasn’t very surprised when Steven Page left the band in 2009.  As their music became more campy and often aimed at kids, Page was less comfortable.  His drug bust in New York was the real shock, since he was caught doing cocaine.  That certainly clashed with the band’s family friendly image.

The band carried on and Page went solo, but there’s a new twist.  On March 25 2018, Barenaked Ladies will be inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.  It’ll be done during the Juno Awards broadcast, and Steven Page will be returning to perform with them.  “I hope it’s fun,” said Page.  “I honestly haven’t been in the same room as the other guys – all the other guys at once – since I left the band. It’ll be good to see them all, but it’s going to be odd. It’s not like we’re getting back together.”

Odd indeed, but stranger things have happened.  Will you be checking out the big reunion on March 25?

 

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23 comments

  1. I never did see them live though I had many opportunities. That yellow tape was awesome and I’m still a fan of Gordon. Just bought a 25th anniversary pressing of it in October, brought back a lot of memories listening to it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nice! So bizarre that it’s already 25 years since Gordon. Well 26 now. At first I wasn’t sure about the album, it wasn’t entirely what I expected. But it’s certainly become classic. Personal faves: Brian Wilson, Box Set.

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  2. I am interested!! Gordon is one of my FAVOURITE albums. I also lost interest after Maybe You Should Drive. I didn’t find it as strong as Gordon, and there were other things to listen to too. So it goes. I was also shocked and saddened by Steven Page’s drug bust. Initially whenever I saw him solo, there was something deflated and sad about him. I haven’t been keeping up with either the band or him as of late, but yes, I want to see this.

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    1. I think Steven Page, like many artists, wears his heart on his sleeve. I thought I could sense something the night I saw them. You observed sadness. And like many people who sometimes suffer from depression, Steven Page liked to play the clown. He was the goofy one on stage, and him and Ed used to back-and-forth zingers like nobody’s business. Of course I shouldn’t psychoanalyse anything but perhaps Page is just one of those artists.

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        1. You want to know what it means to be a woman? Talk to them about their story of being sexually assaulted and not being believed. That poor poor woman. #Metoo is a starting point, but we got a very LONG road to hoe, my bro.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. The #MeToo and #TimesUp movement will always have an ally in me. I will be fighting next to them every step of the way. The truth is I can never imagine what it is like to have that story and not be believed. I can try to imagine, and feel what it is like, but it is only a shadow of what the actual experience must be.

          Although I try not to boast about it, I do take pride when people call me a “good man” or a gentleman. I have always tried to stick up for those who are being put down by bullies and that’s why #MeToo is personal to me.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a fraction of their history…they have done probably 10 studio albums since I stopped listening (which was on Maroon, their fifth album). They’ve done a Shakespeare album, a kid’s album, a Christmas album, and a double CD set called Barenaked Ladies are Me and Barenaked Ladies Are Men. And I couldn’t tell you how any of them are except the Christmas album which I didn’t care for.

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  3. I’ve always said (and blogged about it too) those first three records were all gold. Shame what happened later (let’s blame Jason Priestly!) but such is the way of things. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with the reunion for the induction. I’ll catch it on the tubes of you.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Gordon and a few other tunes are about it for me. Love “The Old Apartment” from Pirate Ship. I thought it was odd how they came up as a fun little band, then seemed to resent that image once they got a bit of traction. I for one am interested in seeing get together even if it is just for a tune or two.

    Liked by 1 person

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