Music

Review: Barenaked Ladies Take Us Back to the 90s and Bring Along Some Friends

Chicago finally got a break from the brutal heat on Friday, and the breezy, balmy evening was made extra special with a truly amazing night of music, fronted by the Barenaked Ladies. The bands that played at Huntington Bank Pavilion brought wonderful memories back for me of late-night drives in high school with the windows down and the music blasting.

I made sure to get to the show early to see KT Tunstall, a one-of-a-kind singer/songwriter from Scotland who brought a great sense of humor to the show. “I’d like to introduce you to…my band!” she said enthusiastically, pointing to the pedals and keyboards surrounding her. Tunstall played everything herself, creating loops of rhythm and harmony while putting a creative spin on some of her more well-known hits. Her single “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree” earned her a Grammy nomination in 2004 and, as she put it, made her famous in the Jazzercise world. “I had middle-aged American women coming to my shows in sweatbands”, she said delightedly before playing the song for the crowd. Her enthusiasm and excitement were infectious, and as she went into a commanding rendition of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down”, it was clear she had made some new fans. She ended her set with her biggest single “Suddenly I See” (made famous in the film The Devil Wears Prada) and had everyone singing along.

In 10th grade, I saw Better Than Ezra at a small venue in St. Pete, Florida and got to dance with them onstage. On Friday night, I was lucky enough to photograph them on one of the biggest stages in Chicago. The New Orleans rock band was one of my biggest influences growing up, and my copy of their album Closer was scratched and worn out to no end. For their Chicago set, they played two of my favorite songs, “Extraordinary” and “Good”, the latter of which is undoubtedly their biggest hit. Forming in 1988 (the year I was born!), Better Than Ezra has been putting out music and touring consistently for 30 years, and their energy has never faded. Lead singer and guitarist Kevin Griffin jumped offstage and slowly waltzed through the crowd while covering Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” (specifically after joking that the Chicago sunrise had reminded him of the film Almost Famous). Seeing hundreds of fans jumping out of their seats to follow Griffin and sing along put a huge smile on my face for the rest of the night.

As the sun finally set on our perfect skyline, the Barenaked Ladies ran onstage and started right in with “Odds Are”, followed by “Duct Tape Heart”. In between songs, the band members talked with the audience and made the massive space feel like an intimate venue. KT Tunstall joined them onstage for a strong acoustic version of “Brian Wilson”, one of my personal favorites of theirs. Not to be outdone by the opening bands, the Barenaked Ladies played a few covers of their own, including Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” and “Blister in the Sun” by the Violent Femmes.

The three bands have an incredible chemistry together, even if they didn’t all share the stage at once. It’s clear from each set that the bands respect and like each other; Kevin Griffin came back onstage to join the Barenaked Ladies in their song “Lookin’ Up” and looked just as happy to be at the show as the fans did. While there were no crazy pyrotechnics, smoke machines, or costume changes, I think that this trio of bands put on one of the best nights of music I’ve seen all summer. Their heartfelt sets and genuine happiness to be onstage made this a night of unforgettable music.

All photos by Kate Scott

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