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?