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Pop Music Review

Barenaked Ladies' Pop Tunes Outshine Shtick

November 06, 1998|NATALIE NICHOLS

Few bands blend pop and shtick with as much offhand precision as Barenaked Ladies did Tuesday at the Universal Amphitheatre, where they delighted a capacity audience of loyal fans with almost two hours of quirky tunes, virtuoso turns and satiric musical routines. In the end, however, the songs proved far more inventive than the comedy.

With wry, catchy numbers from its U.S. breakthrough album, "Stunt," as well as from its previous releases, the Canadian quintet recalled the wit and bounce of such veteran acts as Crowded House and XTC. The musicians easily shifted gears, moving from driving folk-pop to Beatles-like rock to jazzy grooves with a couple of guitar riffs or a slap of the double-bass. Despite the relentless pop culture references and unflagging irony in tunes such as "One Week" and "Alcohol," there was enough honest sentiment to elevate the songs above caricature.

That wasn't the case for most of the extended jokes, which included a satire of Puff Daddy's hip-hop dancing, a poke at current pop hits and an impromptu interview/performance with a security guard. The band's freestyle goofing, which involved much broad mockery and mugging, was occasionally chuckle-worthy, but it didn't even approach the Beastie Boys at their best.

Yet it was hard to stay annoyed with those dumb gags, or even with such excessive displays as two bass solos, because the band followed each digression with an arresting tune that salvaged the set's momentum. This savvy approach to pacing showed that Barenaked Ladies are smart enough for their own good.

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