AEG Live Presents
Last Summer On Earth Tour feat. Barenaked Ladies, Ben Folds Five, Guster
Starwood, how we miss thee. For all its ... let’s call them “quirks” for the sake of nostalgia, we get a little misty-eyed thinking about big summertime concerts of yore at the ol’ shed. Holding about a quarter as many patrons as the erstwhile amphitheatre, The Woods at Fontanel doesn’t exactly replicate the experience, but a triple-headliner bill like this one reminds us of all the good things about lawn tickets. Following the 2009 departure of founding member Steve Page, it wasn’t clear how Barenaked Ladies would proceed, but their second post-Page album, Grinning Streak, finds them adjusting comfortably to life as a quartet, exploring suburbia’s musty corners with their trademark ear for classic pop and a smidge of self-deprecating humor. On 2012’s The Sound of the Life of the Mind, Ben Folds Five deliver another helping of the rapier wit and insistent catchiness for which ardent fans had waited patiently over a decade. Guster is still the band that was making eclectic indie pop before (almost literally) everyone else, bringing the power of electricity back to their live show after a 2012 acoustic tour and subsequent album. Even if you don’t smoke, make sure to grab a lighter for the multiple sing-alongs that are bound to ensue.
Toronto Ontario | Rock
Imagine a shrine for all great sayings, a Pop Psychology Hall of Fame if you will. On these special walls you'd find such stalwarts as "What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger," "Tomorrow's Another Day" and "Everything Happens For A Reason." Right over there the "Light At The End of The Tunnel" stands next to "The Great Unknown." Sure, these sayings are ubiquitous; repeated down through the ages as mantra for some, cliche for others. But now, after 20 years together, Barenaked Ladies are taking time to walk these halls and learn from another bon mot, All In Good Time.
Yes, All In Good Time is the name of the new album, the 11th from this Canadian institution, and their first as a new four-piece. Fourteen bold and adventurous new tracks, recorded in Toronto in the spring and summer of 2009, find Ed Robertson (guitar/vocals), Jim Creeggan (bass/vocals), Kevin Hearn (keyboard/guitar/vocals) and Tyler Stewart (drums/vocals) exploring a very creative and fertile phase of their careers.
"There was a little more room for people to breathe on this record" says Robertson. "It's more rocking in places and it stretches out and becomes more spacious in others. It was a really good feeling in the studio, with everyone very comfortable together and Michael at the helm."
Robertson is referring to ace producer and long-time BNL collaborator Michael Phillip Wojewoda, who produced the band's very first full length CD, 1992's Gordon. Wojewoda jumped at the chance to capture the group's rebirth as a quartet. "The newness of the situation inspired the band to stretch musically", says Wojewoda. "Even though there were challenges, they jumped in headfirst with enthusiasm and passion. The results are very exciting. It was great to be part of that."
The move from five to four could be a tough transition for a lesser group, but Barenaked Ladies are no ordinary rock band. Founded as a duo in 1988 by schoolmates Ed Robertson and Steven Page, the group soon grew to five members and took Canada by storm with their five-song indie cassette, The Yellow Tape. Over the next decade-plus, their albums Gordon, Rock Spectacle, Stunt and Maroon went multi-platinum in the U.S., and Barenaked Ladies became a top-selling, award-winning concert draw across North America and The U.K. with their frenetic blend of high-energy melodic-pop, crack musicianship and spontaneous repartee.
Ed Robertson, the primary songwriter since the birth of the band, took a moment to share how the writing process for All In Good Time was different from past Barenaked Ladies albums. "This was a chance for me to shed some of my writing dependencies, both good and bad, and explore new ground. I allowed myself to go places that I might not have in the past. I was more literal at times, and more abstract at others, pushing the self-imposed limits I'd adhered to for too long. The writing was cathartic for me in a way that writing hadn't been since the early nineties. It had been a huge and often dark year: an arrest, a plane crash and the death of my mother. All of these things took a heavy toll on my psyche, and spurred a lot of serious exploring."
Regarding the line-up change in Barenaked Ladies, Robertson is very candid: "Our relationship was great and very fruitful. It lasted almost 20 years, but it was time to move on. Now we're doing something that feels really fresh and exciting to me. Steven's departure left four singers and three multi-instrumentalists in the band, so we're not lacking for musical ideas, and now there's more room for the other writers in the band to bring songs to the table."
The results of Robertson's personal explorations can be heard in the standout first track/lead single "You Run Away," a story of missed opportunities and remorse: "I tried to be your brother / You cried and ran for cover/ I made a mess, who doesn't? / I did my best but it wasn't enough. "
In the brisk, angular rocker "How Long," Robertson kicks off the lines "Give it up for Anger, it makes us strong!" another echo of recent years for the famous father of three.
On the power-pop "Every Subway Car," the founding singer/guitarist takes on the angst of a love-struck guerilla artiste: "Soon the world will see / Our graffiti love/ Belton on my glove/ They'll wonder who you are on every subway car."
Finally, Robertson finds three rhymes for the apparently unrhymable word Orange in a Django Reinhardt meets Jay-Z beer-hall sing-along called "Four Seconds": "Oh Flip, The light is turning Orange / Coat ripped, when I caught it in the door hinge/ I slipped when the lady in the 4 inch / Bought it in a store in Germany." Even after a couple of years of ups and downs, Barenaked Ladies have hung on to their abstract senses of humour.
For bassist Jim Creeggan, who sings the jaunty "On The Look Out" and the soulful "I Saw It," the latter a meditation on teenaged bullying, the current version of Barenaked Ladies is breaking important new ground: "I think the band is moving forward with a clearer collective understanding of who we are, and what is at stake. Leaving Steve was one of the hardest things we've had to do and we each had to weigh in on why the band was important enough for us to continue. We came to the conclusion that the band was only worth saving if we supported one another and strove for a healthy dynamic between us. So far it's been amazing and the most creative time I can remember having with the group."
Multi-instrumentalist Kevin Hearn echoes Creeggan's notions of personal and creative growth within the band. Hearn brought three new songs to the table for All In Good Time: the symphonic "Another Heartbreak," the surreal ghost town travelogue "Jerome" and the luxuriously groovy "Watching The Northern Lights," all of which showcase his unique, fragile voice. "I brought my songs in with sketches of how I heard them," says the former St. Michael's choirboy. "They were further shaped by the guys and MPW's input. I didn't try to write 'BNL' songs, per se, rather I just tried to write songs that felt honest to me, and I knew they would be in good hands within the band."
The result of new contributions from within is a recording that is stylistically adventurous, musically diverse and the most emotionally riveting and honest work by the band to date.
"We had a bizarre year in 08", says drummer and vocalist Tyler Stewart. "A lot of upheaval, a lot of changes, but 12 months later we're stronger than we've ever been. We had to dig deep and redefine ourselves. Right now it feels really, really good to be in Barenaked Ladies."
Ben Folds Five
Chapel Hill NC | Alternative
“I’d love for people to hear this record clean,” says Ben Folds of Ben Folds Five’s new The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind. “Like they never even heard of us before. If no one knew who we were and we put this record out, I think that would be terribly interesting.”
Sorry, Ben, but that ship has sailed. Ben Folds Five were among the most distinctive and inventive bands of the alternative era, beloved for their kinetic live shows and piano-powered popcraft. Now, more than a decade after the Chapel Hill, North Carolina-based trio first said farewell, Ben Folds Five are back and clichés be damned, they’re better than ever. The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind (ImaVeePee Records/Sony Music Entertainment) makes it plain that the years apart have only served to amplify the band’s already estimable gifts. Songs like the ebullient first single, “Do It Anyway,” or drummer Darren Jessee’s elegiac “Sky High” illustrate an increased subtlety as well as a soulfulness born of a truly inimitable group dynamic.
Folds, Jessee, and Robert Sledge first united in 1994, drawing immediate notice for their sardonic smarts, high-energy harmonies and unstoppable melodies. In 1995, the band’s self-titled debut was rightfully hailed as a guitar-free pop oasis amidst the grungy industrial wasteland that was mid-90s rock. 1997’s Whatever And Ever Amen proved the trio’s popular breakthrough, with the landmark single, “Brick,” fueling worldwide sales in excess of 2 million. Where many bands would’ve happily stuck to the formula, in 1999 BFF returned with The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner, an audacious and inventive collection that yielded still another milestone with the timeless “Army.”
Ben Folds Five amicably parted ways shortly after the 20th Century’s end, eager to explore fresh terrain after seven years of intense concentration on the band. Folds, of course, embarked on a storied solo career, replete with countless veers and variations spanning smash albums, experimental collaborations, production, philanthropy, extensive work and performances with symphony orchestras around the world and even a role as judge on the NBC a cappella singing competition, The Sing Off. An exceptional singer/songwriter in his own right, Jessee earned widespread acclaim and a fervent fan following with his eclectic pop combo, Hotel Lights. Sledge, a true master of the bass guitar, also worked producing, writing and performing regularly as a session bassist and solo artist. In 2008, MySpace reached out to Folds, wondering whether the Five might consider reuniting for their “Front To Back” concert series.
“Nobody had ever asked us if we’d do anything, because they’d made the assumption that we wouldn’t,” Folds says. “I called Robert and Darren and they said, ’Yeah, why not?’ It went really well and it opened our minds to the possibility of recording.”
The hometown performance – which saw the band playing Reinhold Messner in its entirety – reopened lines of communication and it wasn’t long before they reassembled to record a trio of tracks for Ben’s 2011 career-spanning anthology, The Best Imitation of Myself: A Retrospective.
“We very consciously decided to stick to the original blueprint,” Folds says of the sessions, “but what we found out was that we didn’t enjoy that as much as we did trying new ideas. We were so excited by the fragments that we had, we thought we should get together again and record.”
A full-on new album was approached with no little caution – “just to make sure this was something we all wanted to do,” says Folds – but the creative lure proved irresistible. In January 2012, Ben Folds Five assembled at Folds’ own Ben’s Studio (built in 1964 by Chet Atkins as the historic RCA Victor Nashville Sound Studios). They adopted a simple and classic method of recording, with piano, bass, and drums all within 10 feet of each other in the legendary studio’s big room. To allow for complete focus on the music, the band enlisted co-producer Joe Pisapia (Guster, k.d. Lang), who teamed with Folds’ longtime studio collaborator, engineer/mixer Joe Costa, behind the board.
“The band does a lot of talking, a lot of throwing ideas around,” Jessee says, “so it was good to have someone there to keep an eye on the album, helping us pull it together. We spent weeks experimenting with chord changes and arrangements and different feels. We needed an extra set of ears to help weed it out a little.”
Armed with a cache of hooks, melodies, and other intriguing ideas, Ben Folds Five embraced a loose improvisational tack, letting nature and inspiration take its course. Songs like “Hold That Thought” or the complex, keys-pounding “Erase Me” capture the synergistic give and take amongst the players, a methodology that Folds says is akin to passing “a musical peace pipe.”
“In some ways, what we were experimenting with was finding our moments,” Jessee says. “The way we approach a song now, there aren’t strict guidelines going into it. It’s just a more open environment and I think there’s a lot more trust going on in the playing.”
“That comes from us challenging each other a little bit,” Sledge says. “Well, not just a little bit. I think we all go for this kind of virtuosity when we play with each other, because we know that these are the two other guys that can handle it. If you play something insanely hard, I’m gonna top that and play it right back to you. All three of us can do that to each other and that’s really uncommon.”
“I’ve played with really fantastic musicians over the last 12 years,” Folds says, “people who are at the top of their game. What Robert and Darren are are artists. They’re artists at their instruments. Plus, we grew up together, so there’s a chemistry and a focus that we have that I don’t think any of us have with anyone else.”
Folds’ lyrical acuity remains equally idiosyncratic, his trademark wisecrackery and wry character portrayals now edged with significantly more experience and insight. In the same spirit as the band’s intimate instrumental interplay, songs like the mordant “On Being Frank” or the rolling title track (penned with friend and collaborator, novelist Nick Hornby) see Folds exploring myriad themes of letting go, of shattering the boundaries between identity and environment.
“I was thinking a lot about loss of ego,” Folds says. “That’s a big part of your 40-something-year-old psychological development.”
To subsidize the project, Ben Folds Five teamed with Pledge Music for a direct-to-fans campaign, devoting a substantial portion of all funds raised to support music education and music therapy programs, a charitable cause near and dear to the band’s hearts. Thanks to their loyal audience, the effort proved wildly successful.
“There was officially no commercial pressure the morning after we put the album up on PledgeMusic,” Folds says. “We put it up at midnight and by morning, the album was paid for.”
“It feels like we’re directly connected to the fans,” says Sledge, “the way we would if we were just playing clubs and building the band up from the grassroots.”
A series of summer festival performances kicked off in June at upstate New York’s Mountain Jam 2012, setting the stage for an epic 2012/2013 world tour. What’s more, The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind burst into the top 10 of the SoundScan/Billboard 200 upon its September release – the band’s highest ever chart debut. All three members see Ben Folds Five carrying on for the foreseeable future, the band now part of a bigger picture and not the be-all and end-all of their youth. Jessee is currently penning a new cycle of songs, while Sledge is and remains an in-demand session player. For his part, Folds has already penciled in a 2014 symphony orchestra tour, at which point, he notes, Ben Folds Five “turns into a pumpkin.”
“Like everything else, we’re just gonna play it by ear, see what happens,” Sledge says. “But I don’t think the word ’break-up’ will happen again.”
Certainly among the most accomplished and enthusiastic records of their brilliant career, The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind makes it crystal clear: the return of Ben Folds Five is most assuredly not an exercise in Nineties nostalgia. Rather, this dazzling collection stands as testament to a classic band’s revived – and enduring – creative partnership.
“It’s kind of demystified,” Jessee says. “We had all that stuff happen when we were younger and now it’s more about making ourselves happy with what we’re doing. Hopefully that carries over to our fans who have been waiting for this record.”
“For all of us, the only way it could work is if we dropped the egos,” Folds says. “I believe really strongly that the record we made is not a record we could’ve made had we just continued as a band.”
Boston MA | Alternative
Ever since their humble beginnings at Tufts University, Guster have always sought to outdo themselves. They sell out New York’s fabled Radio City Music Hall one year and perform with the Boston Pops at Symphony Hall the next. They sell out a 33-date college tour, and this past spring founded the eco-friendly Campus Consciousness Tour, with buses powered by biodiesel and performances powered by wind power. It’s in this overachieving band’s nature to one-up itself.
So don’t expect it to be any different with the release of Guster’s new album, Ganging Up on the Sun. The Boston-bred band’s fifth studio release may be a melody-minded, breezy, free-spirited, literate pop record like its predecessors—2003’s Keep it Together, 1999’s Lost and Gone Forever, 1996’s Goldfly, and 1994’s Parachute—but this time around, Guster are “more fearless than ever before,” says singer-guitarist Ryan Miller. They’ve pushed themselves both stylistically and emotionally, resulting in their most confident and superlative work to date.
“This album has our loudest song (“The Beginning of the End”), our quietest (“Empire State”), and our longest (“Ruby Falls”). “One song has one of our most sincere lyrics (“Hang On”) and definitely some of our most cynical.” While Miller doesn’t cop to any specific lyrical themes (“I write a melody and words pop up around it”), he does note that most of the words were written against the backdrop of “a president taking a country to war based on some very dubious rationale.”
You can hear a thread of dissent in songs like “Captain,” “Lightning Rod,” “Manifest Destiny,” and “The New Underground.” “But I never want to be preachy,” Miller says. “I’m not telling you whose face to throw a pie in. I’m just trying to exorcise some frustration, some anger, and maybe a provide a channel for someone else’s frustration and anger.”
Ganging Up on the Sun’s sunny, driving-with-the-top-down melodies, vintage harmonies, and warm guitar jangle do recall artists you’d associate with the ’60s and ’70s—bands who also wrote during a time of war and societal mistrust of government—such as CSNY, Mamas and the Papas, Fleetwood Mac, the Band, the Rolling Stones, and Tom Petty. Are Guster wearing their influences a bit more on their sleeve this time around?
“The word ’classic’ was used a lot throughout recording as a goal for the sound of this album,” singer-guitarist Adam Gardner says, “and it definitely has a more classic rock feel to it.” Adds Rosenworcel: “I think when we switched from the ’just guitars and percussion’ shtick to using whatever was in front of us, we ended up sounding more like bands we were listening to.”
The shtick he’s referring to is Guster’s early years as a trio when, onstage, front men Miller and Gardner stuck to acoustic guitars and Rosenworcel played bongos with his bare hands. They’ve come a long way since then, and even added a member. Ganging Up on the Sun is Guster’s first album as a four-piece: Joe Pisapia, a Nashville-based multi-instrumentalist who played on Keep it Together and performs with them live, joined full-time when they began recording the new album.
“Joe is by far the best musician in the band,” says Miller. “He can play every instrument and has taken our level of musicianship up about seven notches. Brian, Adam, and I spent ten years together in rooms, buses, and vans—it means so much to have this new energy as part of our equation. It still feels very much like Guster, just a more confident, muscular, refined Guster.”
Not only did Pisapia add texture and oomph to the tracks by playing banjo, dulcimer, trumpet, and lap steel guitar, he also served as producer for half of the songs, which were recorded at Nashville’s Sound Emporium and completed at Pisapia’s home studio, Ivy League, from January to April 2005. The second batch were recorded later in the year at the secluded mountaintop studio Allaire in Shokan, New York, with Ron Aniello, who also worked on Keep it Together.
"I think in the back of my mind I knew we were writing our best material yet," says Rosenworcel. One of the highlights is the lead-off single “One Man Wrecking Machine,” which is about a guy who hates his life and wants to go back to “the good ole days” and hang out with his buddies, get high, and make out with the hottest girl in school, as Miller puts it. “I’ve had that fantasy my entire adult life,” he says, “Like, what if I had the confidence of a 30-year-old man as a high school sophomore?”
Another highlight on Ganging Up on the Sun is the seven-minute “Ruby Falls,” a celestial epic that features an uncharacteristic muted trumpet in the outro (“I listen to that solo and think ’that’s on my record’?” says Rosenworcel). “Personally, I can’t wait to play ’Ruby Falls’ live,” says Miller. “Not just because I love the song, but because I think there’s a power to it that may even be bigger than what we captured in the studio. Or I could be wrong and we’ll sound like the Carpenters.”
“I just love that our band feels unpredictable right now,” Rosenworcel says happily. “I love that no one knows what to expect from us.”