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Hanging with...

The Barenaked Ladies

The band gets up close with its youngest fans in Framingham

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Ami Albernaz
Globe Correspondent / June 6, 2008

The Barenaked Ladies were backstage at the Framingham Barnes & Noble in early May, just before a performance to promote their new children's CD, "Snack Time." A colorful spread of cubed fruit, chips, rugelach, Danish, and Odwalla juices had been neatly laid out in the employee break room.

"Finally, someone read our list of demands," quipped Steven Page, one of the Ontario band's two lead singers and sometime guitarist.

The guys were in high spirits, despite a busy day that started with a crack-of-dawn appearance on Fox 25 News. Having been together for nearly 20 years and now all fathers of young children they seemed perfectly at ease with a hectic schedule that involved playing songs like "Pollywog in a Bog" and "Allergies."

"Have you tried the whale milk?" asked Ed Robertson, the band's gregarious guitarist and other lead singer, eyeing an ambiguous "o" on a handwritten label on a plastic cup. Robertson, who hosts a reality show called "Ed's Up!" in Canada, sat down with a Tostito and with a Sharpie began inscribing it with the afternoon's set list.

Across from him, Kevin Hearn, the band's soft-spoken keyboardist, accordionist, banjo player, and artist (he illustrated the "Snack Time" CD cover and a companion children's book), described an encounter between his father and Lou Reed, with whom Hearn had recently toured.

"My Dad said, 'I really liked your song, "Guardian Angel," because I feel like I could use a guardian angel,' " Hearn recounted. "And Lou says, 'Well, you can borrow mine, if he ever shows up.' "

His bandmates roared.

Page, Hearn, and Jim Creggan, the rail-thin, rust-haired double bassist, were called out for an interview with the Manic Mommies, two suburban Boston working mothers who run a family-themed podcast. Just before leaving the break room, Hearn - perhaps because he was unhappy with something Robertson wrote on the chip, or more likely, just because it was there, chomped on the Tostito, much to Robertson's delight.

A few hours earlier, the guys had performed at a luncheon at the Sheraton Framingham, where they were staying, for 20 or so winners of a radio contest. Although it had been promoted as a bring-the-kids event, the youngest in attendance looked to be in her teens.

A sandwich buffet with elegantly presented breads, cold cuts, fruit, and thick fudge brownies had been set out, and the band members helped themselves to the spread before sitting down to eat with the contest winners.

Page and Robertson, the band's founding members, were at a table with a 20-something woman and a couple who'd driven down from New Hampshire - a blond woman in red and matching lipstick and a man wearing a shirt with an enormous American flag. Over the course of 20 minutes, the conversation turned from Barenaked Ladies shows the fans had seen to varieties of Hungarian goulash.

For its unplugged set, the band took audience requests, throwing in improvised ditties of their own. Robertson launched into one he called "Burger King Guy," no doubt born of many days on the road.

"I call Burger King 'dirty mouth' because every time after you eat it, you get this feeling later on, like, 'Mmm, what did I eat?' " he said, grimacing. "Around here, they call that Dunkin' Donuts."

The finale was a stripped-down version of "One Week"; drummer Tyler Stewart kept time with a tambourine while Hearn, perched off to the side with his accordion, took to switching a lamp on and off to the beat. At one point, Robertson ran over to a bowl of apples and began juggling.

The bookstore set, in front of hundreds of people, was decidedly more structured, consisting of songs from the children's album as well as a few of the band's adult hits. After the show, fan after fan, many cradling children in their arms, made their way to the long table where the band was seated to have CDs signed. The guys smiled as they asked each child's name, seeming genuinely happy to chat.

A few of the bandmates recognized faces from earlier events. "Did you see that one girl who was on the cruise, the one that just ripped up the guitar on Rock Band?" Robertson asked once it was over, referring to a fan cruise the band had recently held.

A Barnes & Noble employee presented the band with the board game Cranium, which Robertson enthusiastically accepted. "It's Cranium night, folks!" he said, as the band gathered up the remaining Odwalla juices and Tostitos for a long overnight ride to Detroit.

On the way back to the Sheraton to retrieve their bags, the guys made predictions for the NBA Finals.

"Detroit in five," someone called from the front of the van, though Detroit's predicted opponent wasn't clear.

Stewart disagreed. "I don't see anyone beating Boston," he said.

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