You remember that time you went into Wal-Mart at two in the morning and saw four Earnest movies in one package for five dollars? Or the time that you got a ticket to Last Summer On Earth featuring The Barenaked Ladies, Ben Folds Five and Guster? The latest in the bargain bin offerings of “bands that were mildly relevant in the nineties are joining forces to headline venues they haven’t been able to play in a decade” brought the nineties pop oddballs together at Merriwether Post Pavilion for a truly fascinating and ultimately fun night.
I won’t resort to dissecting or analyzing the merits of the Barenaked Ladies, especially their newer material, but the overall experience of the night was surprisingly fun. Guster kicked the evening off by offering their lush-guitar heavy pop that sometimes crosses over into Teenage Fanclub meets Semisonic territory. From the start it was easy to tell this was going to be a big production, with giant flashing lights, jumbotrons panning around and guitar changes happening after every song. Halfway through their mid-millennial hit “Satellites” it clear this night was not about me, the aspiring music critic, but was about people like the woman behind me wearing her vintage signed Guster shirt, in tears as she watched the band displayed in the golden sheen of the jumbotron.
Ben Folds Five took the stage after Guster and continued the playfulness and comedy that seemed to be the only unifying aspect of all the bands on the bill. After cursing how hot the weather was, they improvised a few minutes of a fake reggae song to the crowd that showed off their musicianship, but by the second song Ben Fold’s piano string broke and it forced the show to a halt. With lights flashing everywhere and thousands of people watching, the sight of Ben Folds dealing with his piano losing an entire note, and joking about it before getting on with the show, brought not just a special humanity to the evening, but brought home the biggest point of the night. Say what you will about their music, but all parties involved aren’t just very talented people, but they’re very likeable too.
By the time the Barenaked Ladies took the stage, an overwhelming sense of joy had overtaken the crowd. If you could call it a “phase”, my Barenaked Ladies chapter ended before I started developing the type of musical snobbery that’s dragged me to hundreds of concerts. But to be enveloped in a crowd that knew every word to BNL’s “Pinch Me” transports you away from the mentality of defining who we are by the bands we like and into the quirky oddball you used to be in middle school. Someone even threw a pair of underwear on the stage during an inspired moment of crowd participation, and front-man Ed Robertson proceeded to display the undergarment on his guitar’s headstock for a short time, the type of comedic gesture was that readily available throughout the bands career spanning set.
While the newer material felt fairly uninspired, which might have to do to co-founder Steven Page’s departure, they’re still some damn fine utilitarian pop tunes. If principal songwriter Ed Robertson were to give his new songs away to a younger pop-star, they’d be the type of sure-fire bubble gum pop that would dominate the charts. Instead they remain partially lived out by middle of the road acoustic guitar driven arrangements. But it’s hard to argue with the band’s live set; there are just too many damn catchy ear-worms to level too harsh a critique on the band. The pure joy of watching an older woman around me shout out the nonsensical rap-lyrics of “One Week” was probably worth the price of admission alone. It was wild, it was fun, and it felt good. The bands own inability to take themselves seriously does nothing but bolster their likability.
One of the highlights of the night came when Ben Folds came out for “If I Had $1000000” that somehow ended in a medley that covered everything from “Thrift Shop to “Get Lucky and The Springsteen penned (and terribly covered by Manfred Mann) “Blinded By The Light”. Other highlights included opener Boothby Graffoe singing “Be My Yoko Ono” and inviting Guster drummer Brian Rosenworcel to play bongo’s on BNL favorite “Brian Wilson.” Even though it’s hard to imagine the exorbitant heights of weirdness ending the song in a bongo freak out brings, just like the night itself, it not only worked but didn’t feel too out of place in the small odd corner of the Universe that we were transported to.
All photos by Joy Asico