The Barenaked Ladies strive for spontaneous shows as a big part of band’s 30-year career | MyWindsorNow.com

The Barenaked Ladies strive for spontaneous shows as a big part of band’s 30-year career

Dan England
dengland@greeleytribune.com

Ed Robertson looks forward to those rare times when he bombs onstage.

Robertson is the lead singer of the Barenaked Ladies, and he's also the founder and frontman. It's his job to sing the songs, but he's also supposed to run the show. For him, those are different things, and he approaches those duties a little differently than many frontmen.

He formed the band with Steven Page in 1988 after the two schoolmates attended a Bob Dylan concert and pretended they were rock critics commenting on the band. The band became known for that kind of off-beat, quirky, often funny lyrics, such as those in "If I Had A Million Dollars" or the band's biggest hit, "One Week," a pop-culture poem that referenced the "X-Files," a Snicker's slogan and Sting's Tantric exercises, which we won't explain here.

The band is known for more than being goofy. Robertson enjoys pointing out that even some of the band's hits were serious songs. "Pinch Me," a song that brags about making you say "underwear," addresses feeling lost in the world, even depressed.

"Our first record had some deeply serious songs," Robertson said, "but none of the singles were serious."

Even so, the band's live shows take that same sense of humor, only to 11, if you will, and Robertson lives for the moments in between songs when he can improvise on stage. He is fascinated with stand-up comedy, and he especially loves the moments when things don't go well. He is fascinated by them and enjoys discussing the painful moments in documentaries about comedians. He doesn't consider those moments in his own shows painful. He calls those train wrecks "sort of glorious."

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The band performs Saturday at the Greeley Stampede.

He knows he can't screw around with the music. He takes the songs seriously, and he knows the band will play them well. That's the sort of confidence that comes from playing together for 30 years. The fun comes from the way he approaches the show.

"I think my approach is the opposite of many bands who strive to have the perfect performance of each song," Robertson said in a phone interview. "The show, for me, is everything else that happens. I never say the same things. I want it to be a unique night. I want it to be special."

Robertson now admits to having a crises when Page left the band in 2009. Page was the band's co-lead singer and one of its prolific songwriters and, of course, the co-founder. He was also the second half of Robertson's banter onstage that marked the band up until that point. It was a scary thing for Robertson.

As a result, the band rehearsed for months because they were worried about their fans would handle it. The band's first show, in fact, would be at Universal Studios, in front of 14,000 people. They brought in a familiar producer to guide them, and Robertson planned the show meticulously, to feature the songs he sang at first and ease into the ones Page sang. They planned a show the way, say, Rush, the meticulous progressive rock band, would probably plan it.

They took the stage without Page.

"I launched into the first song, and I suddenly realized that no one gave a (crap)," Robertson said. "They just wanted to see a good show and hear the songs they want to hear. We really overthought it."

The other side to being familiar, of course, is it allows him and the band the freedom to have fun onstage. He realized that the audience trusted him. They weren't looking for a perfect show in the way Rush fans might. They wanted some fun.

"That is very liberating," he said. "That allows me to really go out on a limb."

So if, or when, one of Robertson's jokes falls flat, he knows he can always just laugh it off and launch into "It's All Been Done."

The latest record

The Barenaked Ladies do have a greatest hits album, a staple of any veteran band with a few radio hits.

Two months ago, they released another one.

The band wasn’t trying to burn off a bad contract with a record label. They’re on their own label now. This album was with the Persuasions, an a capella group that began singing together in Brooklyn in the mid-1960s. The band reworked some of its classics, including “One Week,” to fit the Persuasions’ style and let the a capella group take the lead on a few songs.

The Barenaked Ladies, known for their vocal harmonies, didn’t find the paring much of a stretch. They invited them to sing together at Central Park on a tour stop and loved the collaboration. So they went into the studio with them and recorded 15 tracks in a day-and-a-half.

“it was the easiest record we’ve ever done,” said Ed Robertson, the Barenaked Ladies’ lead singer and founder, in an interview.

Robertson said the group is working on a new album that will be released this fall. This one was almost just for fun. Even so, it did influence the way Robertson sings some of his band’s most popular hits. Robertson said he thinks about what Cliff Dawson of the Persuasions did with “My Old Apartment,” one of the band’s biggest hits, every night he performs it.

“It’s caused me to re-approach it,” he said. “I’m never going to sing it like him. He’s a 65-year-old black man. But his approach taught me a lot about what the song could be.”

The show

The Barenaked Ladies perform at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Island Grove Arena.

You can go to http://www.greeleystampede.org for tickets or call (970) 356-7787. You can also go to the Stampede Ticket Office, 600 N. 14th Ave, Greeley.

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