For the first truly beautiful evening of the series, the Thursday at Canalside crowd was treated to a truly transcendent display of pop songcraft. Steven Page, founder and former co-frontman of Barenaked Ladies, brought his solo band to the harbor and offered the assembled a tour through pop history that stopped in the land of the Beatles, doffed its cap to XTC, reminded us who the stronger writer in BNL was and even visited Mario Lanza’s terrain for a short while.
Page has assembled a band that can ably run the gamut from power-pop to chamber music, and he leaned on them heavily throughout Thursday’s stellar show, as he ran through a set that drew liberally from his four albums since leaving BNL and offered a healthy dose of rearranged tunes from his former band’s catalog.
For most of the set, Page - looking dapper in suit and tie, and much thinner than he has appeared in recent years – split the difference between his newer material and his BNL hits.
The difference between the two? Nothing, really. Page is a pop tunesmith of the highest order, and he has not slipped an inch since parting ways with his former band – an ensemble, by the way, that was and probably still is widely adored in Buffalo.
Page walked onstage after his band had assumed their positions, and led the group into a lovely “A New Shore,” with supple accompaniment from cello and violin.
“Jane,” the first of the evening’s BNL songs, brought the large crowd to attention, and most seemed to stay rapt throughout the rest of the gig. The solo “Indecision” fell directly into a crowd favorite, the BNL track “The Old Apartment,” with its rousing chorus of “This is where we used to live,” which folks who lived in Allentown during the ’90s felt to the core of their being, if I recall correctly. (I believe I do.)
Of the solo period songs, standouts included a beautiful “A Different Sort of Solitude” and “What A Good Boy,” both of which displayed Page’s gorgeous and always on-point tenor in its most flattering light.
The BNL hits came fast and furious too, though, as Page and co. masterfully read the crowd’s mood, and gave them a blend of what they needed and what they wanted. “It’s All Been Done,” an impeccable pop tune, urged the crowd to demand an encore. And they got one.
Buffalo’s own Son of the Sun took the first slot, and of the more than a dozen times I’ve seen the band over the last five years, this particular evening was the finest of them all.
This group is one of the finer original alternative acts in town, and it played like it on Thursday. A killer cover of the Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer” got the crowd into it, but the band’s own songs are on the same level.
Lead singer and rhythm guitarist Zak Ward writes beautiful songs redolent of alt-rock and Brit-pop in equal measure, and his strong tenor unflaggingly leads the band. The three-guitar lineup offered astute, spacious arrangements, a marriage of sophistication and power. During “Tell Me,” Ward broke into impromptu verses of Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released,” that were simply hair-raising. This band could headline a stage like Canalside rather handily.
The Truth, a band with members hailing from Pittsburgh, followed Son of the Sun with a well-received set of ‘80s and ‘90s mainstream rock that included Billy Squier’s “The Stroke” as well as covers of Jet and Collective Soul.