GUEST REVIEW – Mark on BNL Rocks Red Rocks
Mark Tyler shares his verdict on BNL Rocks Red Rocks
To most keen Barenaked Ladies fans this new live release was something that was certainly not a necessity (we’ve all got loads right? Whether they are official or bootleg!), it was however something to really look forward to, especially if you were present at one of the shows on the Silverball tour. For Barenaked Ladies as a band, I get the feeling it was really important to them to document this gig/tour and showcase their confidence and qualities as a four-piece live band; they are clearly very proud of where they are at right now, and rightly so.
I’ve been watching BNL live in concert since 1999 and have seen them play in many venues to various sized crowds. Whether it be Wembley Arena, or to a packed main stage at V Festival to smaller venues like the Kentish Town Forum or the Institute in Birmingham they have never let me down, not once have I left a gig disappointed.
I personally thought that Silverball was a release that was the bands most consistent in years.
As a four-piece they have developed a real identity and an identifiable sound and as a collection of songs, Silverball flows so well. This is something that is mirrored in the live shows. The consistency is also matched in the setlists throughout tours these days. Gone are the tours where you could see a vastly differing setlist from one night to the next. The show is clearly so well-rehearsed, and everything is on point.
Firstly, I wanted to see what songs from the live show are missing from the live release – if I’m not wrong then two tracks from Silverball; ‘Matter of Time’ and ‘Say What You Want’, and from Grinning Streak; ‘Did I Say That Out Loud?’ have been left off. By the time the tour had reached the UK ‘SWYW’ was no longer part of the setlist. I did hear the band say that they didn’t feel they were doing the song justice live – this could explain its omission. Although leaving out the two Silverball tracks does make the release more of a career spanning live show release rather than a specific ‘tour’ album – that might be it!! For me, it’s a shame that Jim Creeggan doesn’t get the opportunity to sing leads on this album, ‘Narrow Streets’ is a real fan favourite from the album and was played brilliantly live.
Following on from Grinning Streak opener ‘Limits’ being used as the show opener on the previous tour, ‘Get Back Up’ from Silverball does just the same here. A really great song, that really sets the tone for the record and this live show. ‘Old Apartment’ and ‘Brian Wilson’ are delivered brilliantly by Ed Robertson and show why they are setlist staples. Ed sings the songs his way and they have a new lease of life. Throughout the record, the backing vocals and harmonies from Jim Creeggan and Kevin Hearn are fantastic. The pair are so important to making the songs sound so big, they support Ed when he delivers his lead vocals and classic tracks have been given new harmonies which they perform so well. Let’s also not forget Tyler Stewart, fitted with his Britney Spears mic, he again adds that extra depth to the live backing vocals whilst at the same time playing through his kit with such effortless power.
Speaking of backing vocals, the crowd does an excellent job on the infectious ‘Gonna Walk’, clearly nobody wanting to be branded a racist by fellow members of the audience!
For those who saw a show on the tour, I am sure all would agree that Colin Hay was an excellent opener, and it is great to see that his track ‘Who Can It Be Now?’ gets an outing. His vocals are fantastic, and his backing band do an excellent job – revelling in playing such a great track. Throughout the tour (not on this recording), Colin also joined the band on Pinch Me; another track from the bands back catalogue that can’t be left off the setlist (If it were, there would be lots of people travelling home with more underwear than they had planned!). I’ll never tire of hearing Kevin Hearn’s guitar outro on that track. Now, there was a time when the members of BNL couldn’t remember how to play the Big Bang Theory theme live, again, due to the new fans that this song has generated the band, this is almost always played live. It’s such a fun song and is always the que for Ed and Jim to jive in tandem almost Status Quo style to Kev’s keys solo midway through the track.
For me, the masterpiece of the album is ‘Light Up My Room’. One of my all-time favourite BNL songs, it sounds absolutely massive here. The intro is beautiful and the track is just played so well by all 4 members. Personally I believe it’s so good (“It’s almost too good” as Jim Creeggan once told me) that they should consider closing shows with it. I used to love it when the band closed shows with tracks like ‘Call and Answer’, ‘When I Fall’ or ‘What a Good Boy’ and feel that ‘LUMR’ would be a perfect outro for the live shows.
Now, don’t all throw things at me but there are a few things that although good, I wouldn’t be disappointed if they weren’t part of the album/live shows. First off, Tyler does a great job on leads for ‘Drawing and ‘Rock & Roll’, they are super fun and they also show off not only his great voice but Ed’s ability behind the kit and also Kev’s guitar playing. ‘Snacktime’ I love, my two year old loves it (with ‘Pollywog’ a particular favourite!) however the band has such an extensive back catalogue that there are far more songs that I would rather hear live than tracks from this album. ’Rock & Roll’ is great, but as I have mentioned earlier, I would rather have the band finish with a BNL song. Let’s not forget that prior to the encore, the band have done their covers ditty. I want more BNL! Maybe I am nit picking, but the setlists are shorter than they have been in the past and there are so many tracks I would love to hear.
I am sure there will be some that try and compare the album to previous ‘official’ live albums. I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss Steven Page singing ‘Break Your Heart’ or ‘Jane’, however the band have moved on and are not in a mood to dwell on the past. And because the band are releasing such great studio records and delivering brilliant live shows, nor are the fans. The production on the record, by the band, is first class and the band are on top form throughout. Ed’s playing gets better and better and he has become an ultra-confident solo front man. Jim Creeggan is a lead bass guitarist who makes the most complex playing look so effortless. Tyler is a great drummer who brings such energy to the live shows, always looking for moments to chip in with some witty banter! Kevin Hearn is just such a talented individual, his guitar playing is fantastic and he ties the onstage sound together so well on his array of keys. He has also become a much more confident vocalist who gets better with each tour, re-pitching songs to suit his voice and style of delivery.
BNL Rocks Red Rocks is an album that shows off a band that is enjoying each other’s company, appreciating each others musicianship, and being grateful that after so many years they are playing at such wonderful venues to so many people. There was a time when you wondered just how many years it would be between tours, and how long it would take the band to record new music. What’s great is that you don’t need to wonder anymore, the band are already planning new tours and new music. It’s an exciting time to be a Barenaked Ladies fan.