The Barenaked Ladies @ Queen Elizabeth Theatre © Andy Scheffler
© Andy Scheffler

The Barenaked Ladies + Alan Doyle & The Beautiful Gypsies @ Queen Elizabeth Theatre – October 21st 2015

Right on time, the lights dim, and Alan Doyle barrels out on stage like he’s at a pep rally. The audience, clearly here just as much for him as for the headliners, breaks into a hefty cheer. Doyle is followed by his bandmates, The Beautiful Gypsies, cutting into the tune “I Can’t Dance Without You” as he summoned the audience to continue to cheer and to dance (step-knowing or not). Of course, this is a seated show, so the dancing room was limited, but pockets of people around the room sprung up to shimmy along as best they could considering the space. Doyle is affable as only a Maritimer can be, interacting with the room and flinging accolades to his bandmates. He begins telling us that he’s still on east coast time, meaning he woke up last night, and then went into Stanley Park… at night… “which was a mistake. A bit sketchy. But when the sun rises over the city, I can see why you love to live here.” He went on to tell us it was his intent to make this night the biggest kitchen party in all of BC. He just makes you feel all warm and fuzzy, like if he had the means, he really would invite the entire theatre’s worth of people back to the hotel after to carry on the shindig. He will sometimes just settle down on the drum riser to let one of his super talented band members have the spotlight. The set was rife with solos from just about everyone.

Soon, Doyle got nostalgic, talking about his first time in Vancouver with Great Big Sea back in 1993. “I went down to… what is that called… English Bay?” He looks over to enlist the help of local musician Kendel Carson, whose primary role is the fiddle (as well as singing and guitar at times, and who must be the hardest-working fiddler in the country with all the projects she’s involved in) to make sure he’s got the name of the beach correct. “That’s the first time I ever saw someone go into the ocean recreationally. You’ll never see that on a Sunday morning in Petty Harbour [Newfoundland, where he’s from].” On a more serious note, they then played the touching and sad song “Laying Down To Perish,” based on a fisherman’s gaff, now in a Newfoundland museum, on which four men, aware they were doomed in poor weather on the ice in 1917 and upset less so about their impending fate than about their families thinking the men may have abandoned them, carved their names and that phrase before setting it adrift. The gaff made it home. The men, as far as I can see, did not, and were never heard from again.

As the show turns back towards a more uplifting vibe, I’m noticing there is a delightful variety of tiny string instruments coming out intermittently. Before long, a familiar Morse-code beeping sound sends a ruffle through the audience and signals the start of huge Great Big Sea single “Ordinary Day.” “Thank God for this song, I’ll tell you that right now,” admits Doyle. The audience is up now, clapping and stomping along. I can actually feel the floor of the theatre moving, which is pretty impressive, possibly terrifying. To end the set, Doyle got the audience involved in some participation with his newer single “1-2-3-4.” “When I say 1-2, you say 3-4. ONE TWO…,” and the audience responds in kind with a hearty “THREE FOUR!” Yep, that’s a kitchen party atmosphere all right. Doyle re-introduces his fantastic and lively band, then gets us all revved up by telling us we want one more thing to bring the house down… and out comes Ed Robertson from the Barenaked Ladies to introduce Doyle himself, and do the little rap section and fade out, just like you’d see in the video for the song. Talk about bringing down the house. You mean that was just the opening act?!

The Barenaked Ladies @ Queen Elizabeth Theatre © Andy Scheffler
© Andy Scheffler

This show is, of course, the Barenaked Ladies’. As any Canadian should well know, they’ve been around for a while (27 years, according to Robertson, which seems “ludicrous but awesome!”), their album Gordon propelling them to immediate Canadian stardom, and likely defining a reasonable portion of any Canuck’s early 1990s, with worldwide fame not far behind. They hold the prestigious title of being the first ‘grown-up’ concert I ever went to, when my parents allowed me and a friend to go downtown on our very very own and stay out late to see them in 1993. Weirdly enough, I don’t think I’ve managed to catch a show of theirs since then, so you know, clearly a lot has happened for them in these intervening years.

They opened with “Get Back Up” off the new album titled Silverball. It’s a song that makes neither bones nor despair about the band’s pendulum-swing of success from the 90’s until now. It is what it is, they seem to be saying, and they are happy and better for adventures all the way. Maybe album sales aren’t pouring down the chute like they used to be, but clearly, Canadians still love them. Second up was one of their more serious moments from their earlier days, “The Old Apartment.” That got the audience back in the game pretty quickly. During the day, they had been part of a big youth festival at the nearby stadium, something they addressed briefly as they paused following their first few songs to banter a bit. Showing that they haven’t lost an ounce of their great rapport with one another and their good-humoured, rather goofy spirits, the whole gang engaged in a discussion about being in ‘the 604,’ and further mused about whether it would just be called ‘the 4,’ like how Drake refers to being in ‘the 6.’ Of course, Drake was not at We Day… but the Fonz was! “We didn’t get to meet Henry Winkler. He was in his office.” Robertson, I will just say now, periodically breaks into a brief freestyle rap about just about anything, and bass player Jim Creeggan is a whirl of wiry limbs and expressive faces. Kevin Hearn’s variety of keyboards, on their own special riser, were covered in a pile of stuffed animals, and Tyler Stewart makes sure no one forgets him behind the drums by interjecting some of the most ridiculous commentary between songs. These boys are still having fun. After one little freestyle rap, most of which I wasn’t able to scribble down, aside from a ‘here’s the church steeple’ or something along those lines, Stewart told us, “That’s not our song, Vancouver. That’s your song. You can tell everybody.” Robertson added in, “Good luck f*cking explaining it.”

Robertson continued to engage the crowd by referencing those who might have been dragged along by someone who’s a big fan of the band, those who are, “determined to have a shitty time tonight.” They had a new song they wanted to play, and it required some back-and-forth crowd sing-along. The new song was called “Bottom of Your Heart,” and had a bit of a Raffi-for-adults kind of, well, heart to it. Creeggan is finally on the stand-up bass instead of the regular electric bass he’d mostly had to that point, and he’s busy sticking one leg out for counter-balance while he leans dangerously over playing it. I’m amazed he doesn’t go tumbling right over. Sounds like they’d been in town a day or two already. Robertson talked about going for a walk around town (following a Blue Jays baseball reference that made everyone go nuts) in search of pinball games. He loves pinball (indeed, the preamble to the band starting their set was a bunch of cobbled-together pinball images and sounds displayed on their large LED screens at the back of the stage, also of course referencing the Silverball album title). He finally found what he’d been looking for at the Lamplighter Pub in Gastown – the new KISS pinball machine! This segued into an admission that Gene Simmons was the almighty master of the single entendre, leading to the whole band playing snippets of KISS songs and describing what totally black-and-white, non-innuendoed sexual act he was singing about in the lyrics. “Let’s dissect this as a songwriter […] it’s about sex. Now after all that ribald ribbing, I hope the lyrics to this next song don’t suck.” Off they went into “Matter of Time.”

The Barenaked Ladies @ Queen Elizabeth Theatre © Andy Scheffler
© Andy Scheffler

Going back in time a bit again, the more classic BNL songs, such as “Brian Wilson,” really got the crowd going. People stood up, then sat down, then up again, a quality not unnoticed by the band. “That’s the Vancouver I remember!,” Robertson said after the crowd was entirely upright following the polite seated demeanour they had until then. Stewart at some point did a guitar solo… but with his mouth, while he was still playing the drums. I mean, he vocalized a guitar solo. On that note… singing drummers still absolutely blow my mind. Stewart was responsible for a lot of very obvious backing vocals and even the occasional lead, all while still drumming away. Alan Doyle came back out, brandishing one of those small stringed instruments from earlier, a bouzouki. He added his playing and singing to the BNL cover of Bruce Cockburn song “Lovers In A Dangerous Time,” a song that I still totally love from them. Actually, it looks like someone recorded this at this very show – check it out here. That’s not the only one out there I’m sure, judging by the amount of camera phones being held aloft for this one. “That’s Alan Doyle, and he is holy-shit good!,” applauded Robertson as Doyle left the stage to wild cheers. “I can feel the struggle…” he continued, noticing again how the audience would stand or sit rapidly. The band then had a roundtable discussion about their history in Vancouver, from playing at the Railway Club and being robbed in 1991, to looking for remnants of good old Vancouver club the Town Pump the day before, to what about Dicks on Dicks (aka Richard’s on Richards)? “Man, we’re such clubdroppers.” Cue the “SleepCountry Canada” commercial theme song with the word Clubdroppers interjected. “…anyway, we’ll be back at the Railway soon. Rapidly approaching the good ol’ days…” they said to a laugh. Continuing to be sensitive to the crowd’s struggle about whether or not it was appropriate to get up and dance at certain times, Robertson decided then to make it easy for us. “I’m not forcing you…that would be very un-Canadian of me… but it is definitely okay to dance to this one.” Off they went into the romping “Alcohol.” A big piano solo makes me think something huge is about to happen, but all that happens is two pieces of tickertape randomly flutter down from the rafters. It’s possible this is something left over from the confetti cannons during the encore of the Slash show in this same room just over a week before. That’s a heck of a contrast.

Hearn appeared now at the front of the stage behind a small Virus keyboard that had been wheeled out from sidestage as the band went into, “Maybe Katie,” and occasionally wheeled it around as he played. They then performed “Duct Tape Heart,” about that wonderful material that can mend your guitar strap or your broken heart, and then on into “Pinch Me,” a big single for them circa 2000. Robertson then started on into a story about meeting the Queen. The audience collectively sat down. I mean, instantly. It was jarring, and I was part of it. Just, *whump* everyone seated. Robertson went silent for a moment. Stewart piped up from behind the drumkit. “Well, you have to sit down when you talk about the Queen.” After making fun of that for a while, Robertson’s story continued about meeting the Queen, and some guy named Stephen (the sly reference to recently-ousted former Prime Minister got the crowd hooting), and all the rules one must follow when meeting the Queen. She asked Robertson what the origin of the name was, and he responded in true BNL fashion by ignoring the obvious and telling her he was pretty sure ‘Robertson’ was Scottish. She apparently chuckled, said “Oh, not that one!,” and then just moved on. “From 5 seconds with the Queen, to 26 seconds of the most popular sit-com of all time!” Without missing a beat, the bounced straight into the full-length version of their theme to TV show The Big Bang Theory. Most popular of all time? I have no way to immediately verify that claim, but it’s undoubtedly very very popular, and the speedy theme tune is easily recognizable. It was then time for the best part of the show… as Robertson described it… everyone will come away remembering different things, but if you were to make a Venn diagram of everyone’s favourite things, this would be right in the middle… basically he introduced the band! Everyone got a little solo to go with their introduction.

The Barenaked Ladies @ Queen Elizabeth Theatre © Andy Scheffler
© Andy Scheffler

Before long, they jumped on the major hit train again by cracking out the massive “If I Had A Million Dollars,” to which the crowd was definitely up and shouting along. Afterwards, Robertson admitted he didn’t regret much in his career, but one thing he would have done differently is buy 4 or 5 sketchy houses in Vancouver in the 90s, a reference to our out-of-control housing prices. To end the main set, the band did another set of freestyle rapping, and a medley of pop songs (Outkast’s “Hey Ya,” Mark Ronson/Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk and Hozier’s “Take Me To Church” among them) as they sprung around the stage and sync-danced. As they ended with Bohemian Rhapsody and then a soaring, manly version of “Let It Go” from the Disney film Frozen, Robertson shouted around a big thank you, for over a quarter of a century of BNL. “It sounds like I’m exaggerating, but I’m not! That’s real! Goodnight!.” They towel-whipped each other and waved while exiting the stage. The crowd finally remained on its feet, not ready to leave until there was an encore.

When they came back out, Robertson was on the drums, and Stewart had the mic. He sashayed around the stage, saying, “This is for children. We are now called Snacktime…” Musically, they kind of dove headlong into a heavy Rage Against The Machine/ AC/DC cross. Yes, they played a song from their childrens’ album, which is something even I didn’t realize they had until this happened! The tune is called “Drawing,” but they rocked it up hugely. The actual song and accompanying video is like Yellow Submarine Plus. Wow! Stewart shakes his ass (quite literally) and leaps around the stage with a massive energy, plus Robertson’s drumming is intense. It was an interesting change. They finished everything off with a big version of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock N Roll.” I have to say, I didn’t really expect this from an encore by BNL! It was surprising and a heap of fun. Stewart hollered over the tailing tune, “We aren’t ever going away! 27 more years, whaddya say?” The crowd was still on its feet, cheering back to that idea. The song finished, and as seems to be popular lately, picks and sticks were flung to the crowd, and the band gathered at the front of the stage for a bow before heading off.

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