Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

Events

Barenaked Ladies + Jukebox the Ghost

(3 Nov 2010: Verizon Wireless Theater — Houston, TX)

What was advertised in the local papers as a Barenaked Ladies concert was apparently appropriated by the local pop music station and turned into a halfhearted festival. The show was christened the Bosom Ball, and a whole $1 of every ticket sold went to benefit breast cancer research. The radio station brought in two additional acts to play short sets before the actual opener, Jukebox the Ghost. We arrived midway through Christina Perri’s set. Her pop music was pleasant and easy to listen to, and the four-piece band was solid. She closed her performance with “Jar of Hearts”, her mild hit.


Next up was The Daylights, a Los Angeles-based trio that played straight-ahead rock. They also have a minor radio hit with “Rogue Machine (Don’t Say That You Want Me)”, so the radio station brought them in off of their tour opening for Needtobreathe. I know this because the band mentioned several times in their 20-minute set that they had to get up very early to fly from Pittsburgh to Houston for the day. Really, you couldn’t blame them too much for having it on their minds, since they only got to play five songs for a small, indifferent audience.


With the radio shenanigans out of the way, Jukebox the Ghost finally got to play their opening set. The trio consisted of guitar, keyboards, and drums and played off-kilter, super-catchy pop songs. Their onstage banter was amusing and their stage persona was confident and assured. The songs were a ton of fun and they already had a sizable contingent of hardcore fans in the crowd. This is the kind of band that would have gotten a huge boost from opening for the Barenaked Ladies back in the late ‘90s. Now, with BNL past their prime, they’ll still gain new fans from this tour (like yours truly), but it isn’t the sweet gig it once was.


I became a Barenaked Ladies fan in the mid-90’s, and saw them play in the Detroit area something like a half-dozen times in their heyday. As a Canadian band, they broke big in border towns like Buffalo and Detroit years before “One Week” became a ubiquitous hit in ‘98. I was interested in seeing how the band fared as a four-piece live act since longtime co-frontman Steven Page left the group in 2009. Also, now living in Houston, I was curious about what sort of crowd the band drew far away from their home base. The answer to the latter question turned out to be “Not much of one, and casual fans at best.”


During Christina Perri’s show-opening set, the crowd could be counted in the low dozens. But even by the time BNL hit the stage around 9:15pm, the 3,000-capacity theater was half-full at best. Unfortunately, arriving just in time for the headliners in the row directly in front of us was “douchebag concertgoer” and his seven friends. If you’ve ever attended a concert from an artist that had a hit a while back but has, for some reason, had the gall to continue creating and releasing new music since having said hit, there’s a good chance you’ve encountered douchebag concertgoer. He usually shows up drunk, or looking to get drunk, and only cares about the three or four songs he knows. Since he doesn’t care about any of the artist’s other material, he talks loudly through the bulk of the show and generally aggravates everyone around him.


Meanwhile, his friends either encourage or tolerate his behavior, but they do nothing to stop it. At a club show, you can usually avoid douchebag concertgoer by simply moving away. But since this was a seated show, we were stuck having to deal with him all night long. The lowlight for our douchebag came relatively early on, when Barenaked Ladies stepped to the front of the stage to perform an acoustic, three-part harmony version of 2006 song “Sound of Your Voice”. It was an interesting, entertaining re-arrangement of a song that had originally been sung by Steven Page, but douchebag concertgoer was having none of it. He actively booed the band during the song and teased his friends, shouting at them, “You probably actually like this song!”


As for the Barenaked Ladies themselves, they gave it a good shot and put on a decent show. They opened with “Who Needs Sleep?”, one of the lesser songs from ‘98’s Stunt, but a track that the casual fans in the audience would likely know. After that, the band broke out “The Old Apartment”, an early single that featured a distinctive lead vocal from Page. Robertson is a strong singer, but he doesn’t have the body or theatricality to his voice that Page does, so hearing him take over the lead vocals on the song was weird. This trend continued throughout the night. On tracks where Page’s vocals didn’t make the song, he wasn’t missed much.


A song like “Too Little Too Late” is a power-pop gem regardless of who is singing it. The band had drummer Tyler Stewart sing the tongue-in-cheek rocker “Alcohol” during the encore, and the result was intentionally hilarious. As Stewart said, “When you give the drummer a microphone, you’re going to Hell!” But BNL classic “Brian Wilson”, which relied heavily on Page’s emotional delivery, didn’t have nearly as much punch with Robertson singing it. Even “If I Had a $1,000,000” suffered a bit. The call-and-response duet found the band replacing Page’s part with multi-instrumentalist Kevin Hearn. Hearn is a good songwriter and musician, but his voice is thin and timid, almost the exact opposite of Page, and it really dulled the response part of the song.


The band’s footing was surer on songs that have always featured Robertson. “These Apples”, “Falling for the First Time”, and the big hits “Pinch Me” and “One Week” all went over well with the crowd. Songs from this year’s album All in Good Time, however, were met with something resembling complete indifference.  Despite the band playing some of that album’s choicest cuts, it seemed to make little difference to the bulk of the audience. As Robertson sang the opening to “You Run Away”, a gem of a song with a lyrical hook that sounds like a rebuke to Page’s decision to leave the band, I looked around to see that the vast majority of the audience had taken their seats. Similar reactions met “Summertime”, “Every Subway Car”, and even the rocking, unique “Four Seconds.” The band’s frustration with the crowd started to show through in their banter, even though they tried to keep it light. “A crowd that’s waiting for the hits and doesn’t know the new stuff, it’s every band’s dream audience!” remarked Stewart at one point. At another point, Robertson made a sarcastic jab at anti-Obama sentiment that was met with sincere cheers from what was apparently a pro-Republican crowd. This led Robertson and Hearn to spend a couple of minutes facetiously decrying Canada’s health care system. It hit its peak when cancer survivor Hearn complained that all his treatments for leukemia a decade ago were free thanks to his country’s socialized medicine. This bit, though funny, grew increasingly awkward with the audience until Stewart brought things to an end by yelling at Robertson and Hearn to stop talking politics and play more songs.


Much better was Robertson’s story of his trip that day to Houston’s Downtown Aquarium with his son. Since it was a school day in early November, the two of them were literally the only customers at the aquarium, which led to some awkward encounters with bored employees. This story was very much in keeping with what BNL have done on stage for years. Robertson has always been the band’s primary storyteller, but Page was always the one to inject a funny comment and keep the banter going. Now that it’s just Robertson up front the other three band members haven’t really stepped into the void to play off of him. The biggest positive difference in BNL’s show these days is with bassist Jim Creegan. Formerly content to stay mostly in the middle of the stage behind the frontmen, he now spends most of his time at stage right, energetically playing and moving all over the place on songs where he’s using an electric bass. It’s a good visual move that complements Robertson very well, especially with Stewart stuck behind a drum kit and Hearn spending most of his time behind a piano.


The main set finished with the band’s traditional vocal medley of popular songs- this one included Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” and a couple others. This is one bit that’s definitely past its prime at this point, although the crowd ate it up. The encore ended up being a treat, though, with Stewart’s aforementioned take on “Alcohol”. The band closed the set with a great run through “Bank Job”, probably the highlight of ‘06’s Barenaked Ladies are Me. BNL still knows how to put on a show, but they are definitely struggling to deal with the lack of Steven Page onstage, even after a year of concerts as a four-piece. It’s hard to put all of the blame on the band, though, since the crowd seemed largely full of front-runners waiting for the hits who virtually ignored the songs they didn’t know. They did seem to be giving it their best, despite the frustration, and this longtime fan was plenty entertained.

Media
Related Articles
19 Oct 2014
In overemphasizing the pure pop side of its style, Jukebox the Ghost oversimplifies and dumbs down its songwriting smarts.
16 Jul 2013
Having successfully found the space they so avidly looked for, Ben Folds Five are back to show us you really can go home again. Their live set seamlessly blends classics with their new songs, showing there's plenty more hit material to mine with this threesome.
20 Jun 2013
This album is the sound of a veteran band punching the clock. Barenaked Ladies knows how to write a solid pop song but there isn't much energy or enthusiasm behind these tracks.
22 Jun 2012
Jukebox the Ghost kick off their Safe Travels tour with a sweaty show in Connecticut.
discussion by

Comments
Now on PopMatters
PM Picks
Announcements

© 1999-2014 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters.com™ and PopMatters™ are trademarks
of PopMatters Media, Inc.

PopMatters is wholly independently owned and operated.