Photo of Barenaked Ladies at Summerfest by Andrea Hudson
For a band with a dozen albums under its belt (and more than 15 million sold) that’s managed semi-regular mainstream radio play for close to two decades, Barenaked Ladies is often overlooked. Since breaking out in the states in the late ’90s, the Canadian pop-rockers have held pat in the side mirror of public consciousness. Maybe the Ladies’ lighthearted nature is to blame, or how the group’s catalog features children’s music and television sitcom themes beside moving and well-thought efforts. Even Thursday, Barenaked Ladies wasn’t the most renowned veteran Canadian band to be playing in the southeast corner of the Summerfest Grounds. But as Rush took to the neighboring Marcus Amphitheater for a July 4 nightcap, Barenaked Ladies entertained a decidedly smaller, but still well-attended BMO Harris Pavilion with its many hits, deep cuts from various stops in BNL’s 25-year run and even a couple Rush songs for good measure.
Emerging punctually at 9:45 on the dot, the Ladies got the show going with “Limits,” the first song off its month-old album Grinning Streak, and kept the Grinning Streak streak going with “Did I Say That Out Loud?” Requisite new songs out of the way (for the moment), the band quickly ventured into charted territory, with arguably the most popular song with the lyrics “I just made you say underwear” (“Pinch Me”), which saw primary singer Ed Robertson subbing “Woo”-eliciting words such as “Milwaukee,” “Schlitz” and “Summerfest” in for lines.
“I think this might be the first Barenaked Ladies show in history where there are no Rush fans,” Robertson said, gazing up in the direction of the now-rumbling Amphitheater to his left. The acknowledgement prompted a brief interlude of “Closer To The Heart,” in honor (or is it “honour” if its Canadians honoring one another?) of their fellow Ontarians. Before night’s end, Barenaked Ladies would play shockingly accurate portions of Rush’s “Fly By Night” and “Tom Sawyer” too.
However, the accomplished headliner didn’t forget to play its own hits as well. The jaunty, “It’s All Been Done” livened up the middle of the set, as did new single, “Boomerang” between borderline-pandering between song chatter about the quality of the Fest’s ribs, guessing what keyboardist Kevin Hearn ate for breakfast, the Nathan’s hot dog eating contest, in addition to name-dropping A.J. Bombers and Milwaukee Public Market. When they weren’t killing time talking on stage, BNL managed a tight, album-quality set with its trademark flawless four-part harmonies. The harmony was especially evident on “I Can Sing” – from the aforementioned kid’s album, Snacktime! – in addition to upright bass and banjo plucking, as well as a hilarious-yet-oddly serviceable percussion solo in which drummer Tyler Stewart slapped his bald head while ducked under a microphone.
Barenaked Ladies populated the homestretch of the 90-minute set with favorites among longtime fans (“Brian Wilson” and “Be My Yoko Ono” from 1992’s Gordon and 1996 single “The Old Apartment”) and bread crumbs to keep fringe fans interested, such as the theme song it wrote for Big Bang Theory (which prompted a sizable portion of the pavilion to hoist their cameraphones skyward) and late-’90s super-single “One Week.” As if they’d be allowed to leave city limits without playing it, Barenaked Ladies put a bow on a night of well-executed radio rock, food jokes and spot-on Geddy Lee impersonations with a rendition of “If I Had $1000000” – of course, with improved lyric revisions to add ample bratwurst references. Even if you’re not a Barenaked Ladies fan (I’m not), the understandably popular Ontario outfit put on a solid show that managed to keep the mood light and the songs tight en route to an overall entertaining evening.