Canada’s favourite boy band the Barenaked Ladies received a hero’s welcome from a near-capacity house as they strode onstage for the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra’s pops program Hits and Holiday Songs.
Friday night’s concert kicked off three weekend shows with the orchestra as the ultimate pickup band led by maestro Richard Lee.
The band rocketed to fame during the 1990s, becoming known for cheeky wit and smooth harmonies in tunes such as If I Had a Million Dollars and Be My Yoko Ono. Co-founded by Ed Robertson and former member Steven Page in 1988, the group now consists of Robertson (guitar/vocals), Jim Creeggan (bass/vocals), Kevin Hearn (keyboard/guitar/vocals) and Tyler Stewart (drums/vocals). But the ghost of the golden-voiced Page, who left in 2009 to pursue a solo career, still stalks the band.
The 11-song show opened with a cover of Bruce Cockburn’s 1984 hit Lovers in a Dangerous Time. Despite strong vocals by the four lads, er, Ladies, balance problems immediately cropped up that persisted throughout the concert. Lyrics were frequently engulfed by a muddy sound mix or subsumed by the power of the orchestra. Only in quieter sections, or during solo instrumental breaks such as Hearn’s charming mandolin introduction in I Saw Three Ships from the band’s 2004 Christmas release Barenaked for the Holiday, or the gorgeous three-part harmonies sung by Robertson, Stewart and Creeggan in Sound of Your Voice, could one really hear what was going on.
The four are extraordinarily versatile musicians, frequently changing instruments. Kudos to the hard-working stagehands who kept it all together, trading instruments after nearly every number and even mid-song. But it proved too much of a good thing, with the near-constant kaleidoscopic movement becoming a distraction.
However, the Ladies also know how to put on a good show, with easy banter and plenty of self-deprecating humour. They promised the crowd of 2,041 "this is where it gets crazy," which it almost did during the lively uptempo Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah or Jingle Bells that breaks into the irreverent "Batman smells" lyric variation.
Another quirky surprise was the "Meet the Orchestra" segments between numbers, in which WSO players were interviewed by band members.
There’s no way they could get away without singing If I Had a Million Dollars, and so they did, to the delight of the audience.
Symphony concerts featuring rock/pop bands have become hugely popular. This is a good thing, but too often, the orchestra is used thinly with 60-plus musicians sitting (mostly) idly by, which was the case with this show.
But this is all bah humbug. The crowd had a great time as this entertaining band showed it’s still Ladies first.
The concert repeats at the Centennial Concert on tonight at 8, followed by a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m.