Barenaked Ladies. In The Flesh

BARENAKED LADIES / KT TUNSTALL / BOOTHBY GRAFFOE ROYAL ALBERT HALL

28TH MARCH 2022



Perhaps the most noteworthy thing about a remarkable concert was the fact that we hadn’t lost the tickets. Originally scheduled for 11th April 2020, they’d been kept safe for over two years.


Thank Heavens for that. This was the happiest, most engaging and funniest gig I’ve witnessed.



Since venues reopened I’d become used to gigs in smaller, more intimate spaces. I’d forgotten that the Royal Albert Hall is huge, vertigo inducingly huge. It’s a gorgeous sight from within, and when a crowd starts to wave phone torches it creates a magical impression of fireflies. Pity those who drained their batteries and had to find their way home afterwards without Google Maps!


The great thing about the RAH is that it knows how to use the space. Our seats were high in the Circle, looking down on the stage from the right. Sightlines are excellent. Despite the renowned acoustic technology I’ve sometimes found the sound muddy. That wasn’t a problem tonight. The sound came through loud and clear.


Doors opened at 18:45 and the show was scheduled to start at 19:00. Yeah, like that was going to happen. Everyone knows that the support act will shuffle in around 19:45, just as you’ve finished your drink in your seat and are keen to have another. Sometimes, everyone is wrong. Before a pretty full house, Boothby Graffoe took to the stage at 19:00 on the dot.


I’d never heard of him. Now I want to see him again as soon as I can. For a singer of comic songs, he had one special weapon in his armoury. He was very funny, and the reason that so many people turned up on time for showtime.


To be fair, he’s styled first and foremost as a comedian on Wikipedia and most of the songs were shorter than their titles. He set the tone for the evening perfectly - disrespectful, a little manic, fizzing with energy.


He had two jobs to do. First, entertain us. He certainly achieved that. ‘Ballad of the Budgie’, whilst somewhat macabre, had me crying with laughter.


Secondly he had to warm us up in a way that would serve Barenaked Ladies well. It’s a bit early to have a singalong before 19:30, but that’s what he had us doing on ‘Hartlepool’. It had the added benefit of flagging to Barenaked Ladies that, as an audience, we weren’t very good at listening to instructions or remembering words but we were enthusiastic.





From her records we might have thought that KT Tunstall would be the grown up in the room. Her infectious excitement and enthusiasm kept the mood upbeat. It helps that she is an engaging and self effacing story teller.


At first I thought she was smaller than I expected, but then i realised that she was simply a long way away. It’s a credit to the Royal Albert Hall that one woman and her guitar can fill the place with music. Her personality helps too.


There’s a refreshing candour to her act. She covers Tom Petty’s ‘I Won’t Back Down’ and stops after the intro to tell us that her performance just won’t do as the song needs to be faster, more buoyant if we’re to remain warmed up for the Barenakeds. She shows us how ‘Black Horse and the Cherry Tree’ fits nicely with Ram Jam’s ‘Black Betty’ and confesses to being able to incorporate Rick Astley’s ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ into ‘Suddenly I See’.


I love these moments. They create a connection between us and provide a little bit of trivia to drop into conversations later.


With this set she achieved what all performers should aim for. She put on an excellent show and sent me home to revisit her catalogue.


How can I convey the pure joy of the Barenaked Ladies? Some context may help. Their name is a deliberate source of mischievous confusion. Why else would they call one of their albums ‘Are Men’? They released ‘Snack Time’, an album of songs purporting to be for children. It includes an alphabet song where A is for Aisle. If you don’t find these ideas funny, perhaps they’re not for you.


Banter is integral to their act. The absurdity of Will Smith hitting Chris Rock at the Oscars the previous night was manna to them, and became a running joke all night. They perform songs such as ‘If I Had $1000000’ where the banter is almost part of the lyrics even though it changes every time. It’s a conversation and we feel part of it. I probably haven’t smiled as much since my wedding day!


Musically they’re on the button, switching between instruments as the song requires. How many bands do you know that can win the audience over by featuring the accordion and triangle? Their harmonies are crystal clear as ‘It’s All Been Done’ demonstrated. They’re a band that could take any of the songs in their catalogue and make them work live. It hardly matters which ones they choose but a newer song ‘Big Back Yard’, ‘Pinch Me’ and the mass singalong to ‘If I Had $1000000’ were highlights that are still buzzing around in my head as I write this.





And we could end it there if they hadn’t taken the show to another level for the finale. Let’s call that level ‘musical mayhem’. It’s a level that reveals their desire to be more than consummate entertainers and performers of exquisite pop songs. It’s a level that allows them to unleash their inner Rock Gods. We’ve had an inkling of this when bass guitarist Jim Creeggan entertains us with the intro to Queen’s ‘Another One Bites The Dust’. It’s when drummer Tyler Stewart swaps roles with guitarist and vocalist Ed Robertson that things get a little crazy. A wig out version of Devo’s ‘Whip It’ and a crunching no holds barred Led Zep tribute of part of ‘Whole Lotta Love’ are just some of the weird, but outrageously successful elements of the finale.


For the encore it’s a slightly odd choice of final number. ‘Tonight Is The Night I Fell Asleep at the Wheel’ is a downbeat song to end on but it’s personally significant for the band, and something is needed to bring the audience back down to earth.


The show finally ends, around four hours after it started, with the four of them linked together at the front of the stage absorbing the ecstatic applause. They looked …… grateful and slightly bewildered. It’s an image I’ll carry from the gig for some time.


If I had $1000000 I’d buy all my friends, family, neighbours and random strangers tickets to see them.


This is a special band delivering a special show.


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