Steven Page Trio find a melody at the Shenkman Arts Centre

November 17th, 2021 by  |  Published in Concerts

Steven Page Trio at the Shenkman Arts Centre by Aaron Kaiserman 1

Steven Page Trio at the Shenkman Arts Centre by Aaron Kaiserman

Ottawans were treated to one of our first indoor concerts in some time. The sold out, social distanced, indoor show made for an exciting return to live music with the Steven Page Trio. The former Barenaked Ladies frontman was joined by Kevin Fox (Sarah Harmer) on Cello and Craig Northey (The Odds) on electric guitar, with Page switching between acoustic guitar and grand piano.

The combination rock/chamber instrumentation is familiar enough in Page’s discography, but the absence of bass and drums stripped down the BNL deep tracks and newer solo material to expose the emotional heart of each song.

Lots of Banter

Steven Page Trio at the Shenkman Arts Centre by Aaron Kaiserman 2

Steven Page Trio at the Shenkman Arts Centre by Aaron Kaiserman 2

Helping out the atmosphere was the venue itself. The Shenkman Arts Centre was a fitting locale to house Page’s blend of high-art ambition and intimate playfulness. In the course of the sometimes excessive on-stage banter, Page thanked the volunteers for cooking a meal for the band and crew, as well as for providing excellent hand towels. Page and the Barenaked Ladies’s other frontman, Ed Robertson, were famous for their improvisational stage conversations; Fox and Northey — who shares songwriting credit on a lot of Page’s post-BNL work — did their part to keep up. Other topics covered between songs included light political humour, reminiscences of sophomoric pranks, personal hygiene, and Page’s disappointment at the cancellation of his 2020 Stratford musical due to the Covid outbreak.

An Amazing Variety of Themes

The range of topics mirrors Page’s range as a songwriter, with tunes that vacillate between dark comedy, deeply personal reflections, and everyday tragedy — sometimes all at once. The audience was treated to high-concept experimental tunes like the fun-house car crash opera, “Tonight is the Night I Fell Asleep at the Wheel,” and the tongue-in-cheek, mariachi-inspired, anti-anti-science polemic, “Gravity.” Showcasing Page’s talent for gut-wrenching introspection were nostalgic oldies like “What a Good Boy” and “The War on Drugs,” along with more recent fare like “Where Do You Stand” and “Looking for the Light.” Page’s high-baritone was on full display through the 2-hour set, but the secret weapon of the band was Fox doing double duty as rhythm section while lending a wealth of texture to Northey and Page’s playing.

Aside from a couple improvised numbers that included a just wrong partial cover of “Smoke on the Water” and a Christmas song about cheese logs, the greatest crowd-pleasers came late in the show as the main set ended with BNL hits “The Old Apartment” and “Brian Wilson,” complete with jam-band outro. The encore included a snippet of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” in a moment that hit hard as a fitting reference point for the emotionally complex “Call and Answer,” which closed out the evening.

Steven Page Trio at the Shenkman Arts Centre by Aaron Kaiserman 4

Steven Page Trio at the Shenkman Arts Centre by Aaron Kaiserman 4

Page Continues to Impress

It was an engaging enough show for casual fans looking for the old favourites. But for a long-time fan of the Barenaked Ladies, and Steven Page in particular, the show was a complete delight. New standouts sit comfortably alongside classics with updated arrangements. The evening was a reminder of how Page’s storied career and musical ambition make him one of the most interesting and endearing contemporary Canadian artists.

-Aaron Kaiserman

Check out the complete setlist here ​and listen here.​

Steven Page Trio at the Shenkman Arts Centre by Aaron Kaiserman 3

Steven Page Trio at the Shenkman Arts Centre by Aaron Kaiserman 3

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