Barenaked Ladies Deliver Hits and More Outdoors
By Alan Sculley
In putting together “Stop Us If You’ve Heard This One Before!” – the new compilation of unreleased and rare tracks — the four members of the Barenaked Ladies got the chance to take a trip back to their early years as a band.
That’s what happened, according to Barenaked Ladies drummer, Tyler Stewart, as the group revisited early live performances of songs like “Same Thing” (from 1992) and “Teenage Wasteland” (from 1993), which were plucked from the band’s vault of unreleased material for “Stop Us If You’ve Heard This One Before.”
“It just sounds like guys playing fast, excited and full of testosterone — and full heads of hair,” Stewart said. “It was an interesting time. It’s nice to put that document out. You look back at some of those tracks from ’93 or ’94, it’s 16, 17, 18 years ago, it’s pretty neat to still have that stuff in the vault. There are probably fans of the band that weren’t even born then, who are like ‘Wow.’ So historically speaking it’s a pretty nice document.”
The early ‘90s also strike Stewart as a period that has certain parallels to where the band has found itself in the quite recent past.
“You really remember working hard and having something to prove to people,” Stewart said, mentioning another key memory that surfaced in hearing the vintage live performances. “I think even in the last couple of years, with the emergence of the four-piece band, and still being around after so many years, we kind of feel like a new band in some respects. We feel like we do have something to prove to people that this is a great band.”
The recent period to which Stewart refers, started three years ago when the group split with Steven Page, who along with Ed Robertson, had fronted the group and had shared much of the songwriting in the band with Robertson.
It was a major change for the Canadian group, and one that left many fans wondering whether the band could be as good without one of its main creative and vocal contributors.
The jury is still out on the long-term future of Barenaked Ladies, but Stewart is enthused about that the group can accomplish in the four-man lineup that was left after Page’s departure –singer/guitarist Ed Robertson, Stewart, keyboardist Kevin Hearn and bassist Jim Creeggan.
“We’re in a much healthier place as a group than we were, let’s say, five years ago,” Stewart said. “So it’s been great. I think the main thing is creatively, there’s a chance to blossom and grow. There’s more space in the band. With one less guy, there’s more space for everybody’s ideas. It’s been quite fruitful so far.”
The group has been busy of late. In addition to starting to write for a new studio CD, it has been writing music for a Broadway musical based on the classic movie comedy “Animal House.”
To help fill the gap until its next studio CD, the Barenaked Ladies assembled “Stop Us If You’ve Heard This One Before!,” which features a dozen tracks from across the group’s nearly 25-year career. In addition to the early live cuts, the CD’s highlights include a rich ballad “I Don’t Get It Anymore” that was recorded in 2001, and the jaunty rocker “Long While” (a 2002 full band demo). A couple of other songs are notable because they fall a bit outside of the group’s clever pop wheelhouse. For instance, “Yes! Yes!! Yes!!!” (from 2003) seems a little punky for this band, while the ballad “I Can, I Will, I Do,” with its mumbly vocal and introspective tone, seems at odds with the outgoing personality of most of the group’s material.
Continuing to tour is also on the band’s to-do list, and this summer, Barenaked Ladies head up the inaugural lineup for what the group hopes will become it annual traveling festival tour, the “Last Summer On Earth” tour. The rest of the lineup features Blues Traveler, Big Head Todd & The Monsters and Cracker – three bands that share some traits with Barenaked Ladies.
“These are four bands that are known for being good live acts and their music. That’s good,” Stewart said. “And they all have pretty loyal audiences, so it’s kind of nice to combine forces.”
Putting together a package of several established acts is a touring strategy that 1970s-era classic rock bands have been using for several summers to make touring outdoor amphitheaters a viable option. For example, this year, Styx, REO Speedwagon and Ted Nugent are touring together, as are Chicago and the Doobie Brothers and Journey, Pat Benatar and Loverboy.
“Everyone knows about the (sad) state of the music business,” Stewart said. “But the state of the touring business is still fairly healthy. But other than the acts that are out there crushing top 40, you have to find a way to try to make it interesting for people. We thought this was a pretty good idea, so we’ll see whether we fall flat on our faces or not this summer.”
Reach DCP freelance writer Alan Sculley at AlanSculley@DaytonCityPaper.com.