I discovered the Barenaked Ladies after watching a live concert on VH1 back in 1996 or so. I went out and bought Rock Spectacle, a live album that introduced me to their Canadian hits. This was before that one song came out and gave them American hits. Back in 1996, they were still only famous in Canada. Rock Spectacle is a fantastic album. Every song is a winner, and the bonus live tracks reveal a band full of laid-back goofballs. After I had memorized that one by heart, I started buying from their back catalog.
Stunt came out in 1998, and with it, "One Week", which introduced American radio audiences to the Ladies. I bought Stunt almost as soon as it came out, because this was the late 90s, and people still bought CDs. Two years later, I bought Maroon, but it was more out of obligation. I couldn't name a single track off that one if I tried. I'm sure I listened to it once, maybe two or three times. At some point, I got rid of most of my CD collection, preferring to have my music in mp3 format. I got rid of Maroon and even Stunt, but I still have Rock Spectacle. You know how you can tell a great album? Your favorite song keeps changing.
Why didn't I listen to Maroon? I could not conclusively say that the band changed for the worse. I have no idea why Maroon failed to take hold of me the way previous albums had. It's easy to blame that kind of thing on success, to say that a band sacrificed craft to get an album out as quickly as possible while the public still remembered their last hit. I guess I would have to go back and listen to the album again.
I happened to come across a limited time offer of Barenaked Ladies tickets for $10. I have no idea what they usually go for, since I hadn't been in the market for them anyway. It was just serendipity that I found out they were going to be in town at all. I bought two tickets for their July 31 concert at the new Raleigh downtown amphitheater. I bought the tickets months ago, and I had to keep reminding myself of the event. Since the Barenaked Ladies are no longer sitting at the front of my mind all the time, I was actually afraid that I would forget to go to the show.
What did I expect? I expected to see a band that I used to really love, but that is past its peak. They haven't had any big hits in over a decade, one of their principal songwriters left the band, and they were selling concert tickets for $10. Maybe you could blame that last one on the recession. I didn't expect to know any of the new songs, nor did I expect to be particularly impressed by them, but hoped they would play a couple of the classics. That's all I wanted - to be reassured that whatever they are now, they used to be the Barenaked Ladies that appealed to the teenager that I used to be.
The downtown amphitheater is new and shiny. We took our seats on the lawn, deciding to forego the $9 24-ounce Bud Lights. I realized just how long it had been since I'd seen a big concert like this, where the band is so far away you can't make out their facial expressions. For someone who goes to an awful lot of concerts, I sure don't see very many different bands.
The Ladies might be on the downward slope of their career path, they are still a great live band. Each musician has a microphone, and they've got the banter nailed. But then again, they've been playing together for more than twenty years.
Whenever I comment that I like or dislike something about a band, Josh asks me why I think that. Being a part of the uninformed masses rather than a musician, I always grate for a minute at his question. Can't I just like or not like something without having to figure out why? Is this any time for analysis? By now I've been asked so often that I've started asking myself. I suppose that makes me more thoughtful or something, I don't know. Stupid smart boyfriends making me grow as a person.
Here are some ways that the Barenaked Ladies are a great live band. They know the right mixture of old favorites and new stuff. They are likely tired to death of playing "One Week" and are very excited about their new material. But they know what the audience wants to hear, so they mix it up. They add interest to their old stuff, changing an obvious line here and there, adding a couple of new guitar licks. Undoubtedly they've played these changes a thousand times, but to us, it seems like brilliant improvisation just for those of us who know the albums well enough to recognize the difference. They tell interesting stories about the songs, ones that make you listen to the lyrics with a different outlook. They goof off. They do a boybandesque dance in the middle of one of their songs, highlighting the fact that they are not a boyband at all, but middle-aged Canadians in plaid.
And they nail the hometown stuff. Everyone says that it's great to be in Raleigh tonight, but the Barenaked Ladies tell us that it's great to be in Raleigh because they had North Carolina BBQ for breakfast, lunch, and dinner today. And me, I think there are few things better in life than North Carolina BBQ, so I cheer so hard right then for them. OMG, BNL
The Barenaked Ladies also wrote a song about the Shimmer Wall.
The downtown amphitheater is a part of the Raleigh Convention Center and is across the street from the main building. Directly facing the stage where the Ladies stood is a giant wall of the building that, well, shimmers. It's a mosaic of tiny pieces of something (metal?) that hang from a grid. And when even the slightest breeze makes those individual tiles move, it makes the whole picture shimmer. It's impressive and lovely, clever and still traditional. I have been a fan of the Shimmer Wall since I first saw it.
But I never knew what to call it until the Barenaked Ladies sang a song about it. Maybe they improvised the song, maybe they wrote it that afternoon after a BBQ lunch, maybe it's just like a form letter where they fill in something different for each town. But they talked about the Shimmer Wall, and such is their easy-going manner, it was as if we were all just sitting around shooting the breeze, making jokes about the Shimmer Wall. Now, it's like I personally have an inside joke with the Barenaked Ladies.
That's a great live band.
So I had a great time at the Barenaked Ladies concert. It was not the pants-wetting good time I would have had at one ten years ago, but it was an older and wiser good time for me and the Ladies. Their audiences are smaller and some of them only had to pay $10. The people may not know any of their new songs, and the band has to play the same tunes they've been playing for ten or fifteen years. But I feel like they understand their place. Just like individuals, there is a concept of aging gracefully as a rock band. They don't expect the kind of fame and money they briefly had. But heck, they still make a living travelling around playing music with their buddies for screaming audiences. That is in itself a dream come true, and those guys deserve to have it.