Categories
Summer 2022

JUL 17 | Barenaked Ladies

The Barenaked Ladies posing on a blue ramp

JUL 17 | 7 PM

Smashing together humorous lyrics with pop-rock melodies, headliner Barenaked Ladies have kept audiences singing and dancing to catchy hits like “One Week,” “Pinch Me,” and “If I Had $1,000,000” for over 30 years. The sixth edition of the Last Summer On Earth Tour also features the Gin Blossoms (“Hey Jealousy,” “Follow You Down”) and Toad The Wet Sprocket (“All I Want,” “Walk on the Ocean”).

BARENAKED LADIES

Barenaked Ladies’ 16th studio album, Detour de Force (2021), is only a few minutes old when Ed Robertson declares that “it’s a good life.”

Few would argue. And the group’s 14 new tracks show it’s only getting better.

Over the course of 33 years, the Toronto quartet has sold 15 million records worldwide and built up an arsenal of hits such as “If I Had $1,000,000,” “One Week,” “Pinch Me,” and “The Big Bang Theory Theme.” Widely acknowledged as one of the best live acts on the planet, BNL has hosted a cruise (Ships and Dips), had its own ice cream flavor, won eight Juno Awards in Canada, and been inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. As Ed Robertson (guitar, vocals), Jim Creeggan (bass, vocals), Tyler Stewart (drums, vocals), and Kevin Hearn (keyboards, guitar, vocals) put it on “Good Life” from Detour de Force, “Wasn’t easy but it turned out alright/Wouldn’t trade it for another…You don’t wanna miss this mutha.”

“Flip” leads the album as the buoyant and sonically adventurous first single, which reflects the many flips and changes of the last year. Robertson says the song “is about being open to other perspectives. We try to write songs that move us, that are big. I think this is a song that’s going to be a real energy moment in the live show.”

Following with standout tracks “New Disaster” and “Good Life,” Detour de Force is BNL at its most ambitious, accomplished, intricate, intentional, and, in some ways, circumstantial. Its gestation was long and exacerbated (as so many things have been) by the global pandemic, and the scope of the resulting album is significantly different than what the group had in mind when it started.

Detour de Force is BNL’s most broad-reaching and diverse work to date, fusing the distinct writing voices of Robertson, Hearn, and Creeggan into a cohesive work from the uptempo fun of “Flat Earth” and the playful and country-flavored “Roll Out” to the gentle melodics of “Live Well,” “The National Park,” “God Forbid,” and “Man Made Lake” to the sonic roller coaster of “Internal Dynamo.”

“We’ve always liked that our band is very diverse in what we do,” Robertson says, “and on this record I really enjoyed the exploration. This record is a journey. Taking off one song would tip it in a way we didn’t feel was representative of the record we made. We wanted everything that’s here to be part of the record.”

Stewart adds, “This is some of our strongest material in 30 years, easily. I think it stands up there with our best albums. It hangs with Gordon’ or it hangs with Maroon. There’s a deep well of music we want to draw from, and this probably is the best example of all of that coming together, feeling like an entire album—different voices, same band.”

The long road to Detour de Force began early in 2020 when BNL convened at Robertson’s lakeside cottage north of Toronto with producer Mark Howard (Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, the Tragically Hip, Daniel Lanois, U2). Inspired by Fake Nudes: Naked (2019), the acoustic remake of their last studio album, the idea was “to close ourselves off from the rest of the world,” according to Robertson, “and have no distractions and really capture the sound of a band making music together.” Songs were prepared in the basement rec room and recorded in a make-shift living room studio during a productive five weeks.

Nevertheless, BNL reckoned even before the cottage sessions were over that there was more to do with the tracks they were creating. “We thought a lot of this stuff could really benefit from a little more in- depth production,” Robertson says. The plan was to go into Noble Street Studios in Toronto and work with Eric Ratz (Arkells, Big Wreck, Billy Talent) to add sonic bells, whistles, and polish.

Then the pandemic hit.

BNL wasn’t dormant as the world shut down, evidenced by the group’s spirited Selfie Cam Jam series and Robertson’s weekly Friday livestreams online, both of which were for charity, as well as a pair of virtual concerts. But the pause brought a fresh perspective to where the band wanted Detour de Force to go. Working socially distanced in the studio and in their respective homes, the quartet layered, sculpted, and in some cases, completely overhauled songs. Guests were also invited, including original BNL keyboardist Andy Creeggan (Jim’s brother), all-star singer and bassist Fernando Saunders and MOOG bass pedals borrowed from Rush’s Geddy Lee even make an appearance.

“The pandemic really affected the album in an interesting way,” recalls Jim Creeggan, who penned a pair of the Detour de Force songs. “I was getting calls from friends to do remote-based stuff, people asking each other to add something to those projects. So we started reaching out and bringing other things into what we were doing.”

For Hearn, the changes, intentional and otherwise, were silver linings in the process.

“We took several detours de force,” he acknowledges, “but I think what you get is a beautiful hybrid of a live off-the-floor band on songs like ‘Live Well’ and ‘Man Made Lake’ all the way to full-on production numbers like ‘Flip’ and ‘Good Life.’ It’s kind of reminiscent of (1998’s quadruple-platinum) Stunt; We made a record in Austin with Susan Rogers and we turned it into a completely different record back in Toronto with David Leonard. That’s kind of what we did here.”

The depth goes beyond sonics throughout the album. Though there’s certainly the verbal playfulness and whimsy that’s part of BNL’s stock in trade, many of the songs have a reflective and philosophical, sometimes topical, underpinning that’s also long been part of the BNL makeup.

In June of this year, a Deluxe Edition of Detour de Force was released digitally. It includes three songs recorded live at the band’s sold-out Royal Albert Hall show in London in March of 2022, plus one song that was previously only available on vinyl.

Detour de Force is, in the end, a potent musical statement, a testament to time well-spent, and an open spirit of following where the music leads. It also speaks to the comfort of a band that at this point works on and trusts in its collective instinct, confident that the drive leading to this point still continues to steer in the right direction.

Stream Detour de Force (Deluxe Edition) here

Biography provided by artist management.

GIN BLOSSOMS

Gin Blossoms’ blockbuster 1992 album New Miserable Experience spawned four Top 40 hit singles, and established the Arizona quintet as one of the top rock groups of that decade. More than 25 years passed since the release of New Mis, and now Gin Blossoms are back with their best set of songs in years. Produced by Don Dixon and engineered by Mitch Easter, Mixed Reality (2018) demonstrates that the timeless appeal of Gin Blossoms’ music has endured.

Gin Blossoms formed in 1987 in Tempe, AZ with guitarist Jesse Valenzuela and bassist Bill Leen. After some lineup changes, the group coalesced around Valenzuela, Leen, Robin Wilson (vocals and guitar), drummer Phillip Rhoades, and guitarist Doug Hopkins. One quality that set Gin Blossoms apart from other groups was its deep bench: four of its five members wrote songs. And while each musician would bring his unique songwriting sensibility to the group, the tunes all came together, creating a whole far greater than the sum of its parts.

In 1989, Gin Blossoms released its debut album Dusted on a small Tucson-based independent label. The album included two Doug Hopkins-penned songs, “Found Out About You” and “Hey Jealousy.”

Gin Blossoms gigged regionally in support of the album, and live shows of that era showcased the young group’s versatility and strength in songwriting, musicianship, and vocals. Gin Blossoms’ appearance at SXSW brought them to the attention of major labels, who began courting the band for a record deal.

Along with its original songs, the band became known for its high-energy, loose, and informal shows full of lively stage banter; a typical set list of that era might include irreverent, left-field cover versions of “If I Only Had a Brain” from The Wizard of Oz, The Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night,” and Loudon Wainwright III’s “Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road.”

In 1990, Gin Blossoms signed a contract with A&M Records. Before recording a full-length album, the band cut a five-song EP Up and Crumbling, featuring songs that had been in the group’s set for some time and included Robin Wilson’s “Allison Road.”

Soon after, Gin Blossoms’ major-label debut album, New Miserable Experience (1992) was released. The album included a dozen songs written variously by Hopkins, Valenzuela and Wilson. Working with producer John Hampton, the band recorded six new songs plus new versions of six tunes that had appeared on Dusted and the EP; the result may have been new to listeners across the country and beyond, but for local fans New Miserable Experience was almost a greatest-hits collection.

Despite the strong material on the album, initial response was muted, and for a while it looked as if New Miserable Experience would be a commercial flop. But nearly a year after the album’s release, the third single from the set—a new recording of “Hey Jealousy”—started receiving airplay. The single took off, rekindling interest in the album. Eventually a total of six singles from the record would be released, and the album would go on to earn four-time platinum status (more than 4 million units sold).

By the time of New Miserable Experience’s commercial breakthrough, original guitarist Doug Hopkins was gone from the group; his problems with alcohol had become so serious that the band had little choice but to dismiss him. Guitarist Scotty Johnson would replace him. “We were terrified,” recalls
Wilson. “Could we do it without Doug? Were we going to get dropped by the label?”

Having four songwriters—Johnson wrote as well—would be part of what kept Gin Blossoms afloat in the wake of losing a key founding member. While three and half years would pass before a follow-up to New Miserable Experience appeared, Congratulations I’m Sorry (1996) showed that Gin Blossoms had lost none of its collective ability to turn out finely-wrought, catchy, and lyrically compelling songs.

But initially, the execs at A&M didn’t hear a hit. “They came back and said, ‘No, you need another single. You need another hit song on this record,’” Wilson says. The five band members put their heads together and delivered “Follow You Down.”

Congratulations went platinum, reaching No. 10 on the US album charts (a higher spot, in fact, than the slow-burning New Miserable Experience). “Follow You Down” made the Top 10, and “Till I Hear it From You,” a Valenzuela/Wilson/Marshall Crenshaw co-write appended to subsequent pressings of the album, was a hit as well. A third single from the album, “As Long as it Matters,” earned a Grammy nomination.

Weary from nearly nonstop touring, Gin Blossoms would go on extended hiatus beginning in 1997.

“We weren’t all getting along at the time,” Wilson admits. He, Valenzuela, Johnson, Leen, and Rhodes would each pursue outside projects. By 2001 the group had reunited; the older and wiser Gin Blossoms released Major Lodge Victory in 2006, and No Chocolate Cake landed on shelves in 2010. “We came back together,” Wilson says, “and became stronger than ever.”

By 2012, the band’s lineup included drummer Scott Hessell. In 2017, Gin Blossoms decided to take a look back, celebrating the 25-year anniversary of the landmark New Miserable Experience. Time has been very kind to the band’s back catalog; unlike many other records of its era, New Miserable Experience managed the unique feat of capturing the zeitgeist of the early 1990s while remaining timeless. The songs from the breakthrough album have not dated in the quarter-century since the world first heard them. Audiences packed venues on the New Miserable Experience anniversary tour, often remarking that the show—a start-to-finish run through of the classic album, followed by other songs and a new tune or two felt and sounded like a greatest-hits collection. Which, in a sense, was completely accurate.

In 2017, Gin Blossoms were inducted into the Arizona Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame. The honor becoming yet another sign that the group’s music earned classic status. “We’re descendants of the Byrds, the Rolling Stones, Tom Petty, and Cheap Trick,” says Wilson. “All of that is classic rock, and that’s who we are, too.”

Meanwhile, Gin Blossoms began work on their first new album in almost eight years. Longtime producer and friend of the band John Hampton had passed away in 2014, so at first the group considered self-producing. But at one of their shows, they met Don Dixon, producer of the Smithereens’ first two albums and a legend in power pop circles.

The group booked time in Mitch Easter’s Fidelitorium Studio in Kernersville, N.C., working with Dixon as well as Easter, veteran of R.E.M. sessions. Now Gin Blossoms had a producer and engineer who helped define ’80s jangling power pop, a style that exerted a major influence on the band’s own musical approach. “We needed to be shaken and taken out of our element,” Wilson explains. “Working with Don and Mitch gave us the inspiration to reconnect with the very foundations of the band: where we came from as songwriters and band mates.”

Mixed Reality shares the same timeless feel as New Miserable Experience; it’s packed with 15 songs, with Wilson, Leen, Johnson, and Valenzuela all contributing material. And once again, the mix of songwriters results in something that has that unmistakable Gin Blossoms sound. “As much as we are children of our influences,” explains Wilson, “we managed to do something that was both familiar and original.”

“We’re at the point now where we play better, we communicate better, we get along more,” says Wilson. “We’re more grateful. It’s a very full-circle thing for us to be releasing Mixed Reality.” Built around the proven strategy of using the band’s deep songwriting bench, and packed with memorable songs that connect with listeners while transcending a specific time period, Mixed Reality may turn out to be as timeless as Gin Blossoms’ major label debut.

Biography provided by artist management.

TOAD THE WET SPROCKET

Celebrating over 30 years as a band, Toad The Wet Sprocket is still making music and touring with the same spirit of unwavering independence that started it all over three decades ago. Named after a joke from Monty Python, Toad The Wet Sprocket share the kind of musical chemistry that can only come from meeting in high school and writing, recording, and touring albums over years and years. The band is thankful for the continued help and enthusiastic support of their fans, which helped spur the release of All You Want (2011) and serves as inspiration for the band to tour and play live. After their debut Bread and Circus in 1989, they followed with Pale in 1990, fear in ’91, Dulcinea in 1994, and COIL in 1997, with some compilations along the way. More recent releases like New Constellation (2013) and Architect of the Ruin (2015) were met with the same warm reception from fans and critics as their classic songs and albums. While most will still feel the comforting familiarity of the Billboard-charting hits, “Walk on the Ocean,” “All I Want,” “Something’s Always Wrong,” and “Fall Down,” fans will also be well familiar with tracks with lyrics that resonate for so many life milestones like “The Moment,” “I Will Not Take These Things for Granted,” and so many more.

More more info and videos from the band’s most recent album Starting Now, please visit ToadTheWetSprocket.com and follow @ToadWetSprocket.

Biography provided by artist management.


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SPECIAL THANKS TO
Dan and Gayle D’Aniello,
Wolf Trap 2022 Season Underwriters