Granted, Canada's Barenaked Ladies don't have one of the more startling names in the annals of rock and roll. Compared to, say, Scraping Foetus from the Wheel, the Dead Kennedys, the Circle Jerks or even Texas' own Butthole Surfers, "Barenaked Ladies" seems almost benign. Still, the name was enough to get the group dropped from a New Year's Eve event in their hometown of Toronto, and it can draw a double take from the uninitiated. That's probably what this upbeat pop quartet was hoping for eight years ago, when they adopted the name at the suggestion of singer/songwriter/guitarist Ed Robertson, who happened to be thinking about how little boys describe women in the buff.
But a name can only get you noticed; you have to have something more if you want people to then pay attention. And what the Barenaked Ladies have isn't any actual nakedness -- no butts are bared -- but instead a mix of tongue-in-cheek lyrics and poppy music that sounds something like the Everly Brothers possessed by the spirit of Frank Zappa. They're making songs about ninth-grade life, words that start with the letter A and how they really'd never change that much if they got rich. All this from a group of guys who look, and sometimes sound, like they still tease and tackle one another just like they did in elementary school. But a closer listen reveals odes about stalkers, sucking spiders into a Hoover and Yoko Ono's impact on the Beatles intermingled among the cutesy tunes about awkwardness and youthful discoveries. (In "Be My Yoko Ono," the Ladies came up with one of the great lines of modern music: "I would gladly give up musical genius just to have you as my very own personal Venus.")
Not that the Ladies just sing joke songs; instead, they sing about specific emotional quandaries of youth and young adulthood in a lighthearted way. And as they've matured over three CDs, their subjects have progressed from teen crises to matters of the heart. Still, it's their ability to zero in on commonality that helps them bond with their fans. When the group makes its first-time visit to Houston this week as part of their Born on a Pirate Ship tour, folks can discover how the Ladies' quirkiness manifests itself on-stage. According to singer Steven Page, for a Barenaked Ladies show to be successful, it should be out of control, though in a comfortable way. Mainly, that has to do with fans tossing things onto the stage, especially packages of macaroni and cheese -- a little ritual that began at Canadian club shows, when the boys would sing about still eating the bachelor-pad mainstay even if they got rich in "If I Had a Million Dollars," one of many bright spots on 1992's giggly and gooey Gordon. Then there was that night in Oshawa when 500 pairs of socks were tossed on-stage after a little coaxing from the band. So Thursday, lose your noodles, lose your socks, but keep your belt fastened and your ears open.
-- Greg Barr
The Barenaked Ladies play Thursday, August 29, at Numbers, 300 Westheimer. Doors open at 8 p.m. Frente opens. Tickets are $13.50. For info, call 526-6551.
Primitive Radio Gods -- The Radio Gods are a tribute to perseverance -- or, maybe, simple stubbornness. Five years ago, main God Chris O'Connor recorded what was basically a solo CD using a friend's 16-track studio and a couple of songs left over from his earlier band, Santa Barbara, California's I-Rails. For three years, while O'Connor earned a living as a Los Angeles air traffic controller, the CD languished in his closet. Then a move to San Diego prompted him to pull it out, give it a name, Rocket, and release it as the work of the then-fictitious Primitive Radio Gods (a name he plucked from an early I-Rails song). The CD promptly died, and O'Connor went back to air traffic control. A year later, he came across a cache of Rocket CDs. Shrugging his shoulders, he mailed a few to random record labels. This time, A&R people listened and liked what they heard. Next thing O'Connor knew, the half-decade-old production was at number 60 on the Billboard Top 200 Album Sales chart, one of its tracks, "Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in My Hand," had a choke hold on FM radio and, with the addition of two former I-Rails and a new guitarist, the fictitious Primitive Radio Gods had become a real band, one that pumped out Motown-flavored, low-fi industrial pop. It took them a long time to get on the road, but now that they're there, the Gods are trying to make the wait worthwhile. At the Fabulous Satellite Lounge, 3616 Washington Avenue, at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, September 4. Gus opens. Tickets are $6. 869-COOL. (David Glessner)
Dread Zeppelin -- Dread Zeppelin is the perfect antidote for musical snobs. When they hear the opening notes of "Stairway to Heaven," done reggae style, either they'll run screaming (and you won't have to bother with them) or their cultured facade will crack and they'll dissolve into peals of laughter. Music is supposed to be fun, and there's no band around that's more fun than Tortelvis and the guys. While they're best known for their riotous knockoffs of Led Zeppelin's tunes, their horizons have expanded considerably in recent years. After all, "Stairway to Heaven" wasn't the only really bloated hit of the '70s; there's plenty more scrap from that era that deserves recasting in Dread Zep's furnace. The band's recent The Fun Sessions -- Tortelvis Sings the Classics tapes the nitrous mask to such chestnuts as "Smoke on the Water," "Light My Fire" and, of course, "Freebird." If these songs are going to be played at all, this is how they should be played. At Party on the Plaza, 615 Louisiana, at 5 p.m. Thursday, August 29. Free. 621-8600. (Jim Sherman
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