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MUSIC REVIEW

The Ladies handle the changes with ease

Ed Robertson (left), bassist Jim Creeggan (pictured this year in Ottawa), and the rest of the Barenaked Ladies played the Bank of America Pavilion. Ed Robertson (left), bassist Jim Creeggan (pictured this year in Ottawa), and the rest of the Barenaked Ladies played the Bank of America Pavilion. (Adrian Wyld/ The Canadian Press via AP/ File)
By Marc Hirsh
Globe Correspondent / August 9, 2010

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It’s one of the trickiest problems to confront as a band: what to do after the departure of a member who served as the frontman and signature vocalist. It’s a situation complicated even further when some of the band’s best-loved songs sprang from that member’s pen. Such was the conundrum facing the Barenaked Ladies at the Bank of America Pavilion on Saturday, touring behind their first album made without founding member Steven Page, who left last year.

The Ladies’ response? Grit their teeth, close their eyes, and press forward as though nothing had changed. Certainly the focus on new material helped, as did a shift toward older songs that originally featured guitarist (and new frontman) Ed Robertson, like the skippy, upbeat “Who Needs Sleep?’’ and the more ruminative “Light Up My Room.’’

Robertson’s singing was as throaty as Page’s but not as chesty, making him a solid if less muscular substitute on the power-poppy “Too Little Too Late’’ and “The Old Apartment.’’ Keyboardist/guitarist Kevin Hearn took the opposite approach, sounding as light and plaintive as Paul Simon on “Sound of Your Voice.’’

The hole in the band was most evident in the songs written by Page without the help of his bandmates. Drummer Tyler Stewart sang “Alcohol’’ like a cut-rate Jack Black as the band banged away at what might have been punk if it had any kind of attitude. Robertson added some nasality to his singing on “Brian Wilson,’’ which resulted in a decent Page impression but a wan vocal. It also questioned the value of borrowed introspection; the person doing it would seem to be searching someone else’s soul.

But the remaining Ladies still had a few strengths of their own. The band’s sense of whimsy remained firmly intact, with now-standard improvised songs like the a cappella medley of recent hits (including songs by Katy Perry, Black Eyed Peas, and fellow Canadian Justin Bieber) and a band introduction that referenced the Ladies’ mid-’90s show when around 80,000 people showed up at City Hall Plaza. (In a subtle hat tip to Boston, the music sounded like the bridge to the Pixies’ “Here Comes Your Man.’’) Bombarded with underwear in response to a line in “Pinch Me,’’ Hearn gamely donned a newfound pair of Superman Underoos.

Better still were excellent performances of the sharply nifty “Four Seconds,’’ with its Madness funhouse groove; the hint of pointy electric discord in “How Long’’; and the grandly dramatic “Another Heartbreak,’’ with Robertson and bassist Jim Creeggan providing subtle but magnificent “aaaahs’’ behind Hearn’s lead. All three were new songs, suggesting that while the current Barenaked Ladies might be a workable catalog act, they’re far more effective looking forward and doing material made for and by this particular quartet.

Following a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it opening set by singer-songwriter Angel Taylor, the sweet-voiced Ben Kweller played country-inflected power pop. Even when he was raging at his most electric and intense, he couldn’t quite shake his laid-back demeanor.

Marc Hirsh can be reached at officialmarc@gmail.com.

BARENAKED LADIES
With Ben Kweller and Angel Taylor
At: Bank Of America Pavilion, Saturday