BARENAKED LADIES, LADIES OF THE CANYON, CLARA VENICE

Barenaked Ladies by Sarah Whitlam

QUEEN ELIZABETH THEATRE, JANUARY 17, 2014

Disdain for Barenaked Ladies is based on cynicism and ignorance — you must realize this fact if you are to write about Canadian popular music. That said, it’s also true that BNL will never be as good as they were before Steven Page left the band. The remaining four still need to eat, though, and their fans still need to see them live, with all the funny banter and improvised songs that entails.

The first opening act was Clara Venice, an up-and-coming Toronto-based pop singer who sang fairly uninteresting songs over backing tracks (though her theremin solo on the last track was commendable), and whose debut EP was co-produced by BNL keyboardist-guitarist Kevin Hearn. Then came Ladies of the Canyon, four women from Montréal who play CBC-friendly country rock of the slow-stomp variety. Neither act seemed up to the task of rivaling BNL’s presence.

With Page gone, the Ladies are relying mostly on remaining front man Ed Robertson, who was always the more technical and workmanlike of the Page/Robertson duo. He can still lead the band in a freestyle rap about Japadog with ease, but he seems like he’s just doing his job when he sings new songs about how “odds are, we’re gonna be alright tonight.” When you take Page out of the equation, old hits like “Brian Wilson” and “If I Had $1,000,000” fall flat (drummer Tyler Stewart taking the mic on Page’s “Alcohol,” though, is quite entertaining).

Not that that the band is predictable; one of two surprise guests onstage was local 13-year-old yo-yo prodigy Harrison Lee, and their pre-encore set closed with a pop song medley that included “Royals” and “Wrecking Ball”. Their encore incorporated covers of “Blister in the Sun” and “Whole Lotta Love”. They may be reaching, but the crowd loved it.

They’re still witty, and they still have a commanding stage presence, but even BNL themselves would probably agree that something is missing. They can never be the same band that did five-night stands at the Railway Club like they did in 1991. They may just need to rethink things to make the experience truly worth it.

By Reid Blakley
Photo by Sarah Whitlam

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