Thursday, April 2, 2009

Finding Equilibrium Without Your Frontman

My musical obsession, Barenaked Ladies, went their separate ways recently with their lead vocalist Steven Page after he was busted for cocaine possession and supposedly admitted in court for consuming same. Usually a band that sees a line up change sits out for a few months, works up a new record of material in a studio to find a new musical ethos, polishes up the best of their product, hides the initial rough performances, and then reappears a year or so later in a publicity blitz working their fresh new view.

BNL instead accepted an invitation from Universal to play a full concert set as part of Mardi Gras in Orlando less than a month after Page's departure. It was probably an offer they decided that they couldn't refuse. Particularly since they're working a difficult path right now.

Late last year, BNL released a fun kids album, and their theme song for The Big Bang Theory has put them in the public eye as the series continues to gain eyeballs. They also went indy 3 years ago after their last contract with Reprise expired. Everything was looking good, and the Steve fucked it all up. BNL doing the concert was probably as certain as gravity.

There's a really good reason most bands don't try to quickly to haul themselves out after a radical lineup change - especially after the loss of their lead voices. It doesn't work.

In an effort to excite their fan base BNL made the audio recording available free for download to the fan mail list for a limited time. While the hardcore - myself included - will download & listen, we're not going to be happy with the product.

The free recording is marred with technical oversights and musical miscues that really make the Ladies sound like a bunch of bar-circuit guys reaching too far, too fast, and with too little practice. And I'm speaking as someone who been the crappy engineer for a group of talented guys whom aren't playing till their fingers bled. (Aside: the engineer should have been not just fired, but sacked, preferably by some very large men in leather with temperamental behavior disorders.)

The largest void is obvious in songs where Page sung lead, which is thankfully only half of their catalog, instead of the entire. Page's voice and power are so distinctive that trying to sing his material would be a challenge most performers, and the remaining Ladies just simply can't carry it for more than a tribute for someone whom they obviously miss a great deal.

All 3 other vocalists in the band make whole-hearted tries: Keyboardist Kevin Hearn, whom probably has the breathiest male voice I've ever heard, has the range, but nowhere near the power; Kevin's natural whimsy isn't an aesthetically acceptable choice. Front man Ed Roberts leads for the rest of the BNL catalog, but Ed's voice is about telling the joke and slyly whipping you around, so he doesn't have the raw vocal pipes. Bassist Jim Creegan has a pleasant voice, but he's always felt his place is in the background and rarely as lead.

The band stumbles, gets up and does better, and then does it all again for about 90 minutes, over and over again. Worse yet, if the band isn't stumbling through Page's vocals, the sound operator constantly keeps varying the reverb and gain of their microphones to the distraction of the listener.

I love this band, but guys, you need to take it back to the studio. Please. Find a new lead to replace Page, if even temporary while you work out how to move on.


Twinky P* said...

I felt the same way about Alice in Chains once upon a time. It's hard to see talent you love go by the wayside. Nice post, idio.

idiosynchronic said...

Thanks. I'm kind of upset for the band to release crap like this and someone needs to say so. If I want to be part of a fellatio circle, I know where the conservative blogs are.

Seven of Six said...

Page will be a tough act to follow. His banter with Roberts on stage is what will be missed most. The guys basically grew up together in BNL.

I'm worried for the band now, trying to replace Page could end badly. Relegated to playing Indian Casinos, State Fairs and City Festivals in the toughest of economic times... thanks Steve!

Page will be missed... I guess the other band members have to drive on creatively. Clean you shit up Page... don't pull an Amy Winehouse!

idiosynchronic said...

I expected the banter would suffer - and the reality is that this element of the stage show is least changed. That rapport between band and audience is intact and just as silly as ever.

I've been thinking about that time between Roberts & Page - while significant, Creegan and Stewart have known the other two almost as long. And Hearn certainly fits in with the others.