. : : April 13th, 2012 : : .
The odds are fairly high, if you’re under the age of 50 and have spent any of the last twenty years in North America, you know The Barenaked Ladies. They’ve reached popular success due to their smart harmonies, trade off vocals, off-the-wall lyrics, and brillian pop licks. At the very least, you’ve heard them perform the theme song to the smash hit sitcom, The Big Bang Theory.
As big as they are internationally, they were always bigger in Canada. They were virtually our answer to The Beatles. Everyone loved at least one of their songs, and there’s divisive split between fans who prefer Ed Robertson songs to Steven Page songs. The duo seemed to have a songwriting style similar to Lennon/McCartney, and shared a familiar family-friendly personae, peaking with the release of an album of children’s songs.
Of course, that all came crashing down when Steven Page was charged with cocaine possession at his home in New York. After the annual Christmas Shows tour, and annual BNL cruise, the band announced that Steven Page would be leaving the band to pursue a solo career.
It was stated and restated time and time again that it was a mutual split, but longtime fans have a hard time believing it was anything other than the long-predicted ousting. After all, how could the band maintain it’s squeaky-clean visage when one of its co-frontmen is convicted of cocaine possession? It seemed like the Christmas shows were a last chance for fans to see the band as it was. I was lucky enough to catch the show in Toronto, but opted to leave my recording gear at home — suspecting, but not knowing that it would be an important show in the band’s history.
Page struck out on his own, and made a curious choice for a first release. Rather than putting out another The Vanity Project disc (his previous side project), or even a new disc of originals, he scored a stage production for the Stratford Shakespeare Festival and produced an album of cover songs performed with the Art Of Time Ensemble orchestra. Curiously, it seemed as if Page was actively trying to distance himself from pop culture and partake in artistic endeavors more on the fringe of the musical community.
Even when Page One, his first proper solo collection of original songs, was released, it generally defied easy genrefication. The disc is almost a pastiche of pop, big band, disco and adult alternative, with only Page’s instant recognizable voice and wry wordplay to tie the songs together.
18-months following the release of the album, Page had yet to perform a proper solo show in his hometown of Toronto, Ontario. Media events, a short, impromptu opening set for comedian Louis CK, etc., sure, but his show at the Winter Gardens Theatre would be the first time he’d be performing a publicized performance for the masses.
Truthfully, I didn’t even know about the show until I stumbled onto the Winter Garden Theatre website following my attendance there for the Whitehorse and Amelia Curran show in February. Completely under publicized, it was a cake walk to secure a front row box seat to the show weeks after it went on sale. In fact, even on the night of the performance, decent gallery level tickets were still available.
There was no opening support for the night. Rather, Page and his band performed two sets of approximately a dozen songs each, spanning the entirety of his career, but it was established early that a Steven Page show isn’t to be confused with BNL-lite.
The second song of the night was one of my all-time favourite BNL songs, Jane, but it was retooled and reconfigured — unrecognizable to most of the audience (if the cheers were any indication) until the vocals kicked in.
The Old Apartment was similarly revisited with a folk twang, infused by a cello and violin. As wonderfully nostalgic it was to hear all these old favourites, the real stars of the night were the new tracks, especially the second set closer, the Chorus Girl, a wonderful, sonic exploration that allowed Steven Page to push his voice and show off his chops.
The encore proved that, just because he’s ostracized from the Barenaked Ladies, not necessarily all former bandmates hold a grudge. Page and his band were joined by Barenaked Ladies’ keyboardist Kevin Hearn for the three song encore, much to the delight of the fans.
As with the Whitehorse show, the venue’s sound didn’t do the band any favours. My position from the lower box gave a great elevated view, but the box over my head blocked the primary floating speaker stack from delivering sound directly to me. There was a small, mounted speaker for the box, but virtually no sound was detectable from the whatsoever. Instead, the whole night, all I heard was reflected sound. Troublesome for a big, echoey theatre. I had great direct sound from the drum kits, but other instruments, especially vocals, had trouble consistently coming through clearly.
Because of this, the sound of the recording is equally inconsistent. If Winter Garden Theatre is going to make a legitimate go of being a premium concert venue — and the price of their tickets indicated premium is exactly what they’re presenting — they have some SERIOUS sound and logistic upgrades that need to be performed at the theatre. Visually, it’s one of the most gorgeous rooms in the city, but aurally? Leaves much to be desired.
As such, my recording is equally a mixed bag. I’ve put in a great deal of effort to improve the audio in post-production, and I’ve made great headway, but you’ll never confuse this recording with a soundboard.
That being said, this is a phenomenal show, full of energy and enthusiasm. The band was clearly ecstatic to be performing in front of a home town crowd, and put together not one, but two spectacular sets of songs. BNL and Steven Page fans should have no problem overlooking the minor sound problems for the extraordinary nature of the performance.
02. A New Shore
07. The Old Apartment
09. She’s Trying To Save Me
10. Tonight Is the Night I Fell Asleep At The Wheel
12. Over Joy
14. Break Your Heart
16. Pomp and Circumstance March No.1 [tease]
17. All The Young Monogamists
20. A Different Sort of Solitude
22. Call and Answer
23. So Young, So Wrong
25. What A Good Boy
27. Marry Me
31. Clifton Springs
34. If You Love Me
35. It’s All Been Done
> Price Is Right [theme]
36. The Chorus Girl
38. Next Time
39. Powder Blue
41. Brian Wilson
Thanks to Steven Page and his band, and the wonderful, exemplary staff at the Winter Garden Theatre.