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Barenaked Ladies Rock the Palace

December 6, 2005

Last night, I journeyed out into the frozen tundra (btw, if this is what December looks like, our winter is so screwed) to see the Barenaked Ladies perform a holiday show at Cleveland's Palace Theatre (which is part of Playhouse Square – one of the country’s largest entertainment complexes). Sure, they're a rock band, but there were plenty of mandolin and banjo solos – not to mention accordions, an underrated folk instrument if I ever saw one. The Barenaked Ladies are one of those bands that really shine when they are live on stage. They write great songs with good hooks and clever lyrics, so the albums are swell. But, in concert, they somehow bond with the audience. Maybe, having two lead singers (Steven Page and Ed Robertson) tempers the ego quotient a tiny bit. This show had a holiday theme, so as Folk Alley's resident Christmas music screener, off I went. BNL is now selling digital downloads of all of their live shows, so you can actually enjoy the same show I did last night. Click to read my full review (and of my adoration for Kevin Hearn).

The show started with an opening set by the LeeVees, which is really a bunch of guys from other bands (including Adam Gardner of Guster) who got together to record a collection of Chanukah songs called Hanukkah Rocks! I actually previewed the music on their web site before the concert, mostly because I’m a complete geek, so I was bopping along while the majority of the crowd listened politely to what was a really fun set (plus, I didn't have to stand the entire time – boy, am I getting old). I teach a class on holidays around the world for Sunday school, so I was digging the Chanukah vibe. And, Shank Bone Mystic played a banjo solo, thus cementing the cool banjo element for the evening.

The Singing Angels, a Cleveland youth show choir, led the second half. It made me really happy that people were actually getting into the performance (which was pretty tight for a bunch of kids) and, when BNL made their grand appearance, The Singing Angels sang back-up on the first three songs (I Saw Three Ships, Hanukkah O Hanukkah, and We Wish You a Merry Christmas). It was fun to have a decent children’s choir behind the boys, who were on their acoustic instruments at this point (Kevin on mando and drummer Tyler Stewart on tambourine). The guy next to me needed me to identify the mandolin – I assume he recognized the accordion (they don't call it Cleveland-Style Polka for nothing).

The thing I really love about BNL live, is that they really sing and play well. You could pull all of their cords and the show would still work (although the people in the balcony would probably be a little peeved). Kevin joined the band about ten years ago as a keyboard player (he took the place of bass player Jim Creeggan's brother, Andy, who also make up the Brothers Creeggan), and I think he adds a nice layer of complexity to what the band was already doing, including the multi-instrumentalism. But, back to the show.

After plugging in, BNL played a big mix of new songs, old favorites, seasonal stuff off of Barenaked for the Holidays (which, btw, is now available on a reusable USB memory stick, so you can be totally hip this holiday), and even something new they’re working on. And the patter. Most big acts totally ignore the talking bits that are a lot more necessary when you don't have roadies to tune your guitars between songs, but BNL are all about making each show unique with raps created on the spot and funny stories that serve as band breathers (two straight hours – I don't know how they do it every night). It was an excellent blend for a crowd that ranged in age from teens to oldsters. I wrote down the set list, if anyone wants it (is it a female thing that I don't know any of the actual names for the songs?).

End conclusion? This was a worthy concert. There was plenty of holiday music (God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Hanukkah Blessings, etc.), along with beloved BNL songs that the audience has come to expect (like Brian Wilson and If I Had a Million Dollars). If you have never heard the band, a live concert is always an excellent introduction, and, if you bear them deep affection, the holiday show is super fun. Check out the BNL web site for tour dates near you.

Posted by Ann VerWiebe at December 6, 2005 11:37 AM

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