Barenaked Ladies at the Mountain Winery (Saratoga), 19 July 2010

I’m a big fan of the Barenaked Ladies. I love their music, the time I saw them live in 2001 was once of the best gigs I’ve been to. They brought heaps of energy and enthusiasm to the stage, and it looked like they were really having fun.

I was disappointed when Steven Page left the band at the sart of 2009 — his voice defined many of their songs, and I was sad that I wouldn’t hear him if and when I next saw the BNL live. (Martin’s rule of live performances is: always take the opportunity to see your favourite bands and artists live, because you never know when they’ll break up, or die.) This disappointment was reinforced when the band released a truly dreadful live recording of their first gig without Page in July of last year. Uh-oh, I thought. Guess that’s the end, then.

But no; their new album “All In Good Time” is pretty good. Not a BNL classic, but pretty good nevertheless. Ed Robertson sings most of the songs, but Jim Creeggan and Kevin Hearn both get more time on vocals (2 and 3 tracks respectively). And although I don’t particularly like Kevin Hearn’s voice in the abstract, somehow I do end up very fond of the tracks on which he takes the lead. (Watching The Northern Lights is sweet and delightful.) Go figure.

But still… a live performance? With the crowd clamouring for favourites like The Old Apartment and One Week that Steven Page used to properly belt out? My brother-in-law Mick mentioned to me a few months ago that the BNL happened to be playing a few gigs in California while we were going to be there. Despite my worries, it was too good an opportunity to pass by, especially because of the really cool-looking venues like the Mountain Winery. So tickets were bought.

Whoa, what a great evening.

First of all, the Mountain Winery is a lovely venue. You drive a winding road through the Saratoga hills to get there, and once you hit the car park you have a fabulous view out over Silicon Valley below. If you are willing to splash out the dough, you can have a gourmet dinner before the concert on one of the winery decks. And the stage itself is placed nestled in an intimate open-air amphitheatre at the heart of the estate, with vine-speckled slopes in the background. The seats have cup holders so you can enjoy a glass of the local wine with your music. It is very much a premium concert experience rather than a mere gig.

Another thing that made the evening great was that we took Fiona with us — this was her first concert! Fiona loves If I Had $1,000,000, and the BNL struck me as a good band to see as her introduction to live music. (“Daddy, will they be playing real instruments?”) She had a fantastic time, spending a good portion of the time dancing on her seat. Every few minutes she would tug on my arm and shine a massive grin at me. I love to see her so happy.

And the music itself? Wonderful. The band looked happy and relaxed on stage, and just as when I saw them before, they looked like they were genuinely having fun, doing something they love. Sure, the songs sound different without Steven Page’s vocals, but they have clearly adapted, and found new treatments for the old songs in his absence. But the band was in the groove, and the audience was thrilled. The atmosphere was fantastic. If, like me, you had any doubts about going to see them in the post-Page era, put them to rest. They’ve still got it.

Set list:

  1. Who Needs Sleep?
  2. The Old Apartment
  3. Falling For The First Time
  4. Every Subway Car
  5. Easy
  6. Maybe Katie
  7. Another Heartbreak
  8. Tonight Is The Night I Fell Asleep At The Wheel
  9. Sound Of Your Voice
  10. It’s All Been Done
  11. Pollywog In A Bog
  12. You Run Away
  13. Blame It On Me
  14. Four Seconds
  15. Big Bang Theory Theme
  16. One Week
  17. To Little Too Late
  18. Pinch Me
  19. If I Had $1000000

Encore:

  1. Ordinary
  2. Watching The Northern Lights
  3. Light Up My Room

Finally, an amusing note about the set lists that I post to my gig reports. I don’t take notes during the show; instead I memorize the set list using scenes and pictures I compose as the songs are played. For example, the first three songs of this concert formed into an image of someone asleep in a bed (Who needs sleep?) in an apartment (The Old Apartment), with a burglar falling down as he climbs through an open window (Falling For The First Time). It’s a simple trick, but it only really works for bands whose songs and lyrics I know well.

Normally I hold the pictures in my head for a day or two, but unless I revisit them, they fade away quickly. The curious thing about this concert was that I found myself remembering the images I had composed for the BNL gig I attended back in 2001. For that one, the first picture was of someone showing up late for an date at a bar (Too Little Too Late), having a big drink (Alcohol), telling his life story to his date (Life, In a Nutshell), then falling off his bar stool (Falling For The First Time).

I hadn’t recalled that picture for nine years, and then all of a sudden it’s right there again. Funny how the mind works.