More Fun Than Jazz: Barenaked Ladies Play Metropolis at the Jazz Fest

bare naked ladies in concert at jazz fest. Photo Victor Diaz Lamich. bare naked ladies in concert at jazz fest. Photo Victor Diaz Lamich.

Somehow I’ve made it to middle age without ever having seen Barenaked Ladies live, fixtures though they be on the Canadian rock music scene for almost 30 years. And I never knew what I was missing until Friday night, when I saw them play at Metropolis as part of the FIJM.

bare naked ladies in concert at jazz fest. Photo Victor Diaz Lamich.

bare naked ladies in concert at jazz fest. Photo Victor Diaz Lamich.

The opening few songs (including Hold On, Never is Enough, Pinch Me, and the Bruce Cockburn cover Lovers in a Dangerous Time) seemed a little sedate — I kept asking myself, “Oy vey, could they be any nicer??” But things certainly got edgier with Four Seconds and continued to ramp up from there, culminating towards the end in a crazy overblown medley of pop tunes: Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side, Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger, Avicii’s Wake me Up When It’s All Over, Lorde’s Royals, Miley Cyrus’s Wrecking Ball, Macklemore/Ryan Lewis’s Can’t Hold Us. How did I miss out on 25 years of this fun?

The niceness factor resurfaced in Keepin’ It Real, when Ed Robertson augmented the band with his two sons, Lyle and Arden, 11 and 14, on drums and lead guitar. Introducing them as kings of jazz (guffaw!) the two cuties outshone their dad and his buddies. Adorable. Their appearance gave rise to another BNL tradition — a little semi-choreographed robot dance to a synth loop of the word “family” and a bunch of jokes about how Junior had mastered the licks that his dad still couldn’t play. I admit I couldn’t help but smile, even chuckle. Not only do they make music, but they do stand up too!

bare naked ladies in concert at jazz fest. Photo Victor Diaz Lamich.

bare naked ladies in concert at jazz fest. Photo Victor Diaz Lamich.

The band played most of their huge hits — Brian Wilson, the theme song from Big Bang Theory, If I Had a Million Dollars, as well as some tracks from their latest album. Robertson changed guitars frequently (like between every song), Jim Creeggan played both electric and standup bass, Tyler Stewart came out from behind the drumset (replaced by Robertson at one point) to maniacally wind up the crowd in the last few numbers, and Kevin Hearn showed his prowess on keyboards and guitars. The highlight was, of course, One Week. The band teased us by playing the vamp but then giving us a bunch of “jazzy” bass solos, including a Stevie Wonder lick (if I remember correctly it was Sir Duke) and some nice funky lines. All of which made the song’s actual arrival that much more orgasmic, especially for the middle-aged fan next to me who I’m sure was having her biggest workout since 1989. Thankfully she only hit my head once.

bare naked ladies in concert at jazz fest. Photo Victor Diaz Lamich.

bare naked ladies in concert at jazz fest. Photo Victor Diaz Lamich.

The irony of being invited to play at the jazz festival was certainly not lost on BNL, whose members never missed a chance to flash their jazz hands. Jazz jokes abounded: Stewart’s triangle solo on a song from Snacktime elicited the comment that the triangle is the jazziest of the percussion instruments, because geometry is the jazz of math. Later, Stewart played a mock jazz flute solo on his microphone during a (fantastic) cover of Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love. And there were a couple of (presumably) improvised raps (another BNL tradition) extolling the virtues of jazz. Of course the FIJM is notorious for inviting non-jazz outfits to play (it seems to get worse — or better, depending on your point of view and taste — every year) so the jokes can’t be avoided. To their credit, the BNL are great improvisers so on that count alone at least they can be considered honorary jazzers.

bare naked ladies in concert at jazz fest. Photo Victor Diaz Lamich.

bare naked ladies in concert at jazz fest. Photo Victor Diaz Lamich.

Needless to say, a great time was had by all. These guys are great musicians, they know how to put on a show and they obviously still love what they do. I was just happy to escape with minor injuries from the fan waving her hands in the air (and in my hair). Next time I’ll wear a helmet.

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