With a band name like Barenaked Ladies and a tour titled "Peep Show," fans might be expecting something a little racy when the group plays Monday night at the Opera House. The show should certainly prove to be revealing -- but in a different, decidedly PG-rated, way.
"Peep Show" is the name the Canadian alt-pop group has given to this fall's tour. Yet these concerts promise to deliver a lot more than just a full set of Barenaked Ladies songs. The shows will also include question-and-answer segments, where audience members can ask the band members (guitarist/singer Ed Robertson, guitarist/singer Steven Page, bassist Jim Creeggan, keyboardist Kevin Hearn and drummer Tyler Stewart) pretty much anything that comes to mind.
"There will be a lot of interaction with the audience," Robertson says. "It will be a very intimate, very relaxed setting."
The "Peep Show" tour will not only introduce material from the new Barenaked Ladies album, Everything To Everyone, it promises to be a nice departure -- both for the band and their fans -- from the usual shows the group plays. The tour itself, Robertson says, came about partly through fan requests.
"We've been fortunate over the last few years to release a record and run out and play these massive arenas filled with fans," Robertson says. "It's always tough to play a whole bunch of new material in that setting, in an arena setting. People who maybe just got the record or they've had it for a couple of days or something, and all of a sudden they're with 20,000 of their closest friends trying to hear new songs. It's always a difficult way to present new material. That, combined with years of having fans saying, 'Oh, I wish I had seen you guys in a club' or 'I did see you in a club, and I miss those days' or whatever, we just thought it might be an interesting way to present this new record."
One other unique twist is the goal for the band to play every single song they've released over the course of the tour.
"It's going to be something like, 'OK, first night we play the first song off the first album, the last song off the next album, the second song off the third album, and work our way through and play everything we've ever done, including B-sides and rarities," says Robertson, adding that Everything to Everyone contains a song that offers further insight into how the group members themselves view their music.
"I like 'Testing 1,2,3' because it approaches a very serious dilemma that we feel, but it's also a fun song and it's got some just straight-up jokes in it. That, to me -- it's kind of the essence of the band. There is a depth there, but it's also about entertainment, and it's fun and it's meant to be enjoyed and it's meant to be pondered."
The crux of "Testing 1,2,3" is at the heart one of the most serious issues songwriters can consider: Is their music connecting with listeners, and does anyone care what their songs have to say?
The theme seemed even more timely, because songwriting for Everything to Everyone happened early this year as the United States' push to go to war with Iraq was causing many musicians to ponder their role in the debate over the issue.
"It was a strange time to write a record. It was bizarre," Robertson says. "We'd get together in our basement and [U.S. Secretary of State] Colin Powell would be in the background on TV presenting the smoking gun to the U.N. It didn't seem to have that much smoke, that gun. But it was just a strange time, and there were all these polls on TV and celebrities were vilified for speaking out against the war. It was just weird. So here we are in our basement in Toronto going, 'OK, do people care what we have to say about anything?' So we just decided to write what we're thinking about and see what comes out."
As it turned out, the Barenaked Ladies didn't write any songs that deal with global issues. But given the way it's been frequently dismissed as lightweight or as a novelty act, the band didn't need a debate over the war to make the questions raised by "Testing 1,2,3," a fitting issue for exploration.
"It's something that we have struggled with since the very beginning. And I understand it," Robertson says. "It's like people don't have enough time in their day to give every single the time it deserves. And we're confusing. Our singles have been songs like 'One Week' and '(If I Had A) Million Dollars,' and people see us goofing around, and we're often very ironic and our presentation of ourselves is often very over the top. And so to a degree it's our fault. But that whole time, we knew that we were selling out arenas and selling millions of records. So we knew there were people out there who did get it and did care and were listening."
Coming from a-Phar -- Listen to any one track by the Pharcyde, and I guarantee you will have no clue that they used to be backup dancers on In Living Color. Nor was gallivanting alongside J. Lo and her big booty any indication of the mark they have made on the hip-hop industry. They hold a firm spot in the industry's history books -- anyone who can breeze through History of Hip Hop 101 could tell you that.
The Pharcyde first broke onto the music scene in 1992 with their album Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde, particularly because of their love song, "Passin' Me By." That tune gave them the reputation of being not just a rap group, but a completely unique hip-hop experience. That record went gold, and the Pharcyde continued to build its rep, becoming a group that could take just about any noise and lay it down as the framework for a song. The Pharcyde even spun off Jimi Hendrix's scratching guitar from "Are You Experienced?" and made it into a background beat on "Passin' Me By."
Perhaps more significant than their talent, the group members came out squeaky-clean in the early '90s, and were able to bypass the then-trends of rappers as "cop killers" and gangsters. The Pharcyde, who, like many rap stars, hail from South Central Los Angeles, emerged as everything but -- they wrote spacey, goofy alternative rap that spurted straight from L.A.'s underground scene. The Pharcyde opened the floodgates of creativity, and cleared the way for other alt-rap groups like De La Soul, Jurassic 5 and Mos Def to do the same.
The group released the less popular Labcabincalifornia, a funkier, soul-infused record in 1995, and then came back in 1999 with an album with the same, fresh hip-hop that made them famous back in '91.
Now with a new album, Humboldt Beginnings, set for March 2004, the Pharcyde wants to make sure that they are still a groundbreaking group in the industry.
"Anybody who is involved in hip-hop -- of course they know who the Pharcyde is," Imani Wilcox, an MC for the Pharcyde says. "Rap is something you do, but hip-hop is something you live."
Perhaps truly living through their work has kept the group afloat over the past 12 years. Wilcox says that when they have released any of their albums, it has truly been their own.
"(By) compiling with people -- that's not a Pharcyde record," he says. "Our first album, it was just us. No guest MC's, no star producers... it was a self-contained unit that we found."
Back in the days as a quartet, the Pharcyde rarely featured any talent that wasn't their own. They may have downsized from a hip-hop quartet to a hip-hop duo, but Wilcox and fellow MC/producer Bootie Brown (aka Romye Robinson) are still alive and kicking.
Wilcox says that the group dynamic has completely shifted now that it's just he and Bootie.
"A two-man group is totally different. You rap more. He knows me and I know him, so we are on the same page," Wilcox says.
He noted the group originally got together as a temporary project -- with former member Tre Hardson only agreeing to do two albums. But when the group's reputation got bigger, Wilcox says, people started to say that there would be no Pharcyde without Tre or Derrick "Fatlip" Steward, another former member. The Pharcyde is still just as talented as before, says Wilcox, and still just as popular in places like Germany and Japan.
"The name speaks for itself. We've been there in the trenches," he says.
They've strayed away from being on a big record label after a handful of disputes with their former label.
"Being on a big label doesn't guarantee you success, you just owe a lot of money," Wilcox says. "You get big success, but you don't get big money."
While their new album is being fine-tuned, Wilcox and Brown decided to go on the road to promote the album.
"Instead of depending on record labels (to promote it), we're taking our act on the road," Wilcox says.
Despite all the changes, Wilcox says that the Pharcyde is still committed to living and breathing their music like they've always done.
"We put it out there and let people make their own judgments," he says. "I'm not a rapper from the Pharcyde -- I'm an MC," he says. "Shoot, I'm an MC and I live to make music and make songs. That keeps it fun. Now we've got a new formula."
Weekend Jazz Tour -- Jazz is in the air. It is. Everywhere I look around. And it begins this weekend with the Jazz Dialogue at EWU (Nov. 20-22), a three-day confluence of daily workshops and 8 pm performances at Eastern's Showalter Auditorium, including the Jazz Dialogue Sextet and the Eastern Jazz Ensemble (on Thursday night), the Jazz Dialogue Sextet, the Eastern Jazz Ensemble and the EWU Vocal Jazz Choir (on Friday) and highlighted by Saturday night's program featuring Grammy-nominated vocalist Kurt Elling performing with the Laurence Hobgood Trio. Tickets for this show are $20 for adults and $10 for seniors and non-EWU Students (tickets for Thursday and Friday night concerts are $10 and $5).
Thursday nights at the Chapter (on the corner of Ruby and Mission) are heating up into a regular thing lately, thanks to a squad of tenacious local jazz musicians including -- but not limited to -- those who make up the talented and passionate Cosmic Dust Fusion Band (on tap Thursday, Nov. 20, at 8 pm).
At the UpStage Supper Club this Thurs.-Sat. (Nov. 20-22), the Brent Edstrom Trio returns to hold court from 9 pm-midnight in the dining room, where patrons can feast on Chef Kile Tansy's outstanding cuisine and digest to sophisticated, swinging sounds of bass, drums and horn.
Finally, why not finish off the week (well, an Inlander week, anyway) next Wednesday night (Nov. 26) from 7-10 pm at the Wine Cellar in Coeur d'Alene? Here, you can slip into something mighty comfortable with All That Jazz, an ensemble made up of local artists guitarist Alex Bedini, pianist Pearl Harwood, bassist Dick Kuck and vocalist Sharon Burkland. All That Jazz are truly all that, playing jazz standards that are the perfect compliment to any dinner date rendezvous in the dark and cozy confines of the Wine Cellar restaurant. Yeah.