CD Review of Talk to the Hand: Live in Michigan by Barenaked Ladies
Recommended if you like
Cake, Ben Folds,
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Label
Shout! Factory/Desperation
Barenaked Ladies:
Talk to the Hand:
Live in Michigan

Reviewed by Jeff Giles

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I
f you count yourself one of the disgruntled Barenaked Ladies fans who has viewed the band’s post-Stunt work with growing disregard, you’re liable to wonder just where in the hell BNL get off thinking they rate another live album – wasn’t it just a few years ago that they released Rock Spectacle?

Turns out it was 11 years ago, actually. We are all getting very old here, including the members of Barenaked Ladies – which probably has something to do with the increasingly thoughtful and mellow vibe of their more recent albums, as well as the disregard mentioned in the above paragraph – but the point is, the band has released five studio albums since Spectacle came out, and notched a few respectably-sized radio hits in the process. Much as Talk to the Hand might seem like a throwaway piece of product – especially if you’ve been keeping up with the slew of live recordings they’ve released independently over the last few years – they’ve said enough in the last decade to justify a new concert recording, however slightly.

Does it supersede Rock Spectacle? Not hardly; Talk to the Hand is missing that earlier set’s manic energy and sonic grandeur. The latter is probably just the result of coming down from the sort of post-production sweetening you can afford when you’re a Warner Bros. act, but still – where Spectacle sounded like a big party (and indeed, the band’s concerts really do often feel that way), Hand is a more muted affair. A lot of this has to do with the set’s inclusion of more recent material – tracks like “Bank Job” and “Easy” might have as much, if not more, depth than “The Old Apartment” or “If I Had $1000000,” but they’re a lot harder to dance to – but really, it seems like the band was either having an off night here or has somehow misplaced its stellar live chops. It’s hard not to root for a group of such resolutely talented, down-to-earth guys – but it’s also hard to get too worked up about this set.

Give the Ladies credit for avoiding too much overlap between Hand and Spectacle – aside from “Apartment,” “1000000,” and “Brian Wilson,” each of these 15 tracks are making their “official” live debut – but if you’ve opted out of the BNL faithful in the last 10 years, there probably isn’t anything here that will convince you of the error of your ways. This isn’t to say the band isn’t making good music, just that it no longer has the sort of…well, spectacle that makes a live album essential.

Still, these are solid songs, and it’s hard to argue with the inclusion of a DVD of the show (plus backstage extras, natch). Talk to the Hand won’t set the charts on fire, nor will it go down as one of the band’s better releases – but it’s pleasant enough, and even lukewarm BNL is better than a lot of other artists’ strongest efforts. Until the next studio set comes along, this will do.

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