Rock Spectacle

Barenaked Ladies

Reprise, 1996

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


In high school, I had an English teacher who only listened to the Barenaked Ladies. He was such a fan that some of our in-class exercises were taught using the band's lyrics, which seemed strange, because I never thought of this band as having anything profound to say.

But I later realized this is a band that just wants to have a good time, entertain some fans, joke around and write a couple good solid folk-pop tunes in the process. Their live album Rock Spectacle is a good example of this, although many fans may notice a lack of songs they recognize, mainly because this release came out before the band hit it big with "One Week," "It's All Been Done" and "Falling For The First Time."

What this record encompasses is early hits like "Brian Wilson," "If I Had $1,000,000" and "The Old Apartment," as well as eight other songs that only fans will know. Of course, this is not important to enjoying this record, and in fact may convert a few people who had written the band off before.

The Ladies don't deviate at all from their studio sound with the exception of Steve Page and Ed Robertson's vocals, which are far superior to their studio versions. What makes this one special are the fans, who sing along often and cheer a lot for their heroes, who built up such a nice fan base by touring incessantly for many years.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

"Brian Wilson" far surpasses its studio version in passion and energy, and the incredibly fast jam at the end is an amazing coda to a forgotten modern folk-rock classic. "Straw Hat And Old Dirty Hank" is one of the better songs from the dubious Born On A Pirate Ship, featuring excellent bass by Jim Creeggan, who lends a lot of muscle to these songs and could well be the musical glue that holds this band together.

Of course, strong songwriting and passion, along with that Canadian sense of humor, keep the proceedings interesting. "Break Your Heart" is nearly a classic rock ballad that is surprisingly effective, more so than the other ballad "When I Fall," which is too laid-back and countrified to be meaningful. "Hello City" also has a country flavor broken up in the middle by a random funk breakdown.

"The Old Apartment" stays too close to the studio version to be truly exciting, though the one-two-stop style of the verse (think "We Will Rock You") lends the song more excitement than it may have had. And of course, the closing "If I Had $1,000,000" features call-and-response vocals with the (mostly-female) audience, as well as several chances to ad-lib new vocals, a new opening and some random closing comments taken from jokey asides throughout the show (one hilarious bit features a story about a sweet old lady asking the band for directions to a theater, and when they don't know, she shouts "Well for Christ's sake!" The free-form Uncle Elwy rap is interesting too).

Naturally, a live show this well-rehearsed lacks much spontaneity to be truly a spectacle, if you will, and about a third of the songs lack much excitement. Of course, a benefit is the fresh sound and clarity of the instruments and voices, which is nice because the sharp production brings out the flourishes in the songs not noticeable in the studio versions.

However, the band's omnipresent odd humor seems to have been taken away from the concert and music and is sorely missed since it is such a large part of their charm. Sticking all the jokey asides at the end -- a la Blink 182's Take Off Your Pants And Jacket -- is just annoying and misrepresents the band's live show.

Of course, for anyone who wants to discover the Barenaked Ladies for the first time, this is a great place to start.

Rating: B

User Rating: A



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