All photos: Kevin Hulse
“It’s a lot more like a cougar trap if you know what I’m saying,” Ed Robertson said of their venue, the Wolftrap Performing Arts Center. Robertson then broke into a freestyle rap, accentuated with piano and occasional drums, to introduce the band. He also commented on the ASL interpreter on the side of the stage, “I don’t know who she is but she’s translating everything I say.” So began the Barenaked Ladies show on Wednesday. Loyal fans, mostly past their twenties, filled the seats and the lawn for the Canadian alternative rock act. BNL opened their set with their upbeat quirky pop number (although, aren’t they all?) “Another Postcard,” which recalls a simpler time when people only had anxiety about receiving anonymous postcards with chimpanzees on them.
They followed up with familiar favorites for us, like “The Old Apartment” and “It’s All Been Done.” And apart from being enthusiastic about all of us, Robertson was really pumped about the Wolftrap sign language interpreters, looking over at them while singing and talking, imagining they were signing, “Now would be a good time to go to the bathroom.” At one point he thought one didn’t catch the lyrics to a song and he said, “I know the problem, she only knows American Sign Language. She doesn’t know Canadian sign language.” He and keyboardist Kevin Hearn dreamed up phrases for the interpreter to sign, like: “He dove into a pool of purple watermelon juice and talked with Aquaman about his bad feet.” And, “I’ve made out with all of these guys, individually and at the same time… [Bassist] Jim [Creegan] is the most tender kisser.” To add to the joke, Creegan had a very long leash (i.e. bass cable), and walked around stage with his instrument making suggestive faces at the BNL revelers.
While each member of the band played well and they were impressively coordinated (I guess that happens after touring and songwriting for twenty years), it was this kind of charming audience interaction that made all the difference in the show. Robertson also told us his Canadian tourist experience: Trying to get a glimpse of the White House, he and his wife were surprised when Marine One and its companion helicopters touched down on the South Lawn. “If I had a killer bicep I could have hit that thing… to make a statement.” During the storytelling, Hearn played spooky organ-sounding keyboards ala radio dramas, and when the story ended, affected a high-pitched voice to narrate, “Will he throw brown eggs or white eggs? Will he make it on time to his show?” “Next week on—Belligerent Canadians!” finished Robertson.
Robertson wondered aloud if the interpreter had the lyrics to the next song, since he hadn’t even written them down yet. This was the DC area debut of a new song (which I’m guessing will be called “Boomerang”), and although I couldn’t capture a video of it, someone at an Ohio show got it for you. After playing “Easy,” and “Blame it on Me,” the band broke up their set by going unplugged, with Creegan on a stand up bass, bespectacled drummer Tyler Stewart on bongos, and the other two on harmony/guitar duty. Once “Pinch Me” and “Too Little Too Late” played, the audience stood and danced, and they were NOT sitting down (unless they were tired of course), they were partying with the Barenaked Ladies! Woo!
The ‘Naked Ladies were missing the uniquely voiced Stephen Page, who split from the band in 2009. There was a marked difference on songs like “Too Little Too Late,” “It’s All Been Done,” “Alcohol,” and “If I Had a Million Dollars,” because these were written for Page’s higher range. Luckily, Ed Robertson’s voice (for the unfamiliar, the singer featured on verses of 90’s hit “One Week”) was just as sweet in its own niche as it was decades ago. And, the rest of the band were quick to join in—even drummer Stewart switched off with Robertson, making an encore vocal appearance with “Alcohol,” stumbling around the stage, gesturing wildly and half talk / shouting the lyrics at us in a crazed, albeit entertaining, fashion. But I’m getting ahead of myself. To end the show, they played the aforementioned “One Week,” and “If I Had a Million Dollars.” Robertson swung with acoustic guitar at stuffed animals pitched to him by Hearn. And then, there was the real end of the show. BNL did a medley of popular songs including: “Forever Young” (mostly Kevin Hearn’s doing), Flo Rida’s “Good Feeling,” LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It,” Nicki Minaj’s “Starships,” a snippet of “Somebody that I Used to Know,” and most of “Don’t Stop Believin.” The very last song was a warm goodbye (and this writer’s personal favorite), “Light Up My Room.”
Big Head Todd & The Monsters delivered a killer garage band sound when opening for the Barenaked Ladies. They played “Bittersweet,” Robert Johnson’s “Come on in My Kitchen,” “Please Don’t Tell Her,” “Muhammad Ali,” “Rocksteady,” and “Broken Hearted Savior,” during which the audience eagerly sang along. After an hour of funky bass, spirited vocals, organ solos and plenty of guitar solos, Big Head Todd broke into a soft version of “When the Levee Breaks,” taking us back in a bluesy, jazzy time machine. Before Big Head Todd & The Monsters, I was able to catch the end of Cracker’s enthusiastic and nostalgic alternative rock set, including their seminal hit “Low.”