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Barenaked Ladies get serious

Say goodbye to the days when Barenaked Ladies were known mostly as a joke band. The Toronto group's new album, "Everything to Everyone," has many songs that take a more serious look at life, rather than the satirical, court-jester approach that has earned them laughingstock status in some quarters.

The album, released just yesterday, has a song that jabs at the "emptiness" of celebrity, while others discuss the vagaries of romance and the need to find personal dignity and self-acceptance.

It's a refreshing change that has been hinted at in the past, but that is explored with meaningful depth this time out. Another new tune, called "Testing 1, 2, 3," even examines the Barenaked Ladies' jester image through the lyric: "If I shed the irony, would everybody cheer me?"

To demonstrate their belief in the new album, BNL played the whole of it last night at the sold-out Orpheum Theatre. But don't worry: They hadn't suddenly gone pompous.

While they're obviously looking for more respect from critics, they also know their fan base wants some laughs, so those were delivered as well during the course of two long sets. The often playful show included a zany question-and-answer period in which one fan asked if she could hire a couple of band members as strippers for her friend's bachelorette party.

Another question was: "Are there words you like saying just because you like the sound of them? My favorites are pudding and Zamboni."

That one prompted some puzzled looks from the band, which soon cut the session short when another fan asked them to sign the new Barenaked Ladies record that he had just purchased.

Barenaked Ladies, who normally play arenas (look for them to play the FleetCenter in late February), have titled this new theater tour "Peepshow."

The opening date was last night, following a two-hour sound check (co-singer Ed Robertson apologized to the crowd for having the doors open late because of it). There was also the matter of two soundboards having broken down during the afternoon, requiring a third by showtime.

"We're flying by the seat of our pants here," Robertson said to loud applause.

The show was a bit ragged, and no doubt hard to follow for fans who had not yet heard the new CD. But it was rewarding nonetheless to hear the band bear down on excellent new tracks such as "War on Drugs" (about being haunted by demons), the contemplative "Next Time," the soul-searching `Unfinished" (with the line, "Turning all the pages, the history of me is incomplete"), and the acoustic-rocking "Maybe Katie," about taking the chance on dating an older woman because of her wisdom, not her looks.

Singers Robertson and Steven Page were in fine voice, and they spiced the show with some interesting oddities, such as a cover of Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" and close-harmony, bluegrassy versions of "Road Runner" and "For You."

And as a reward for the attentive listening to all the new songs, BNL later slipped in familiar crowd favorites "Hello City" and "Brian Wilson." Overall, it was a peep into a more experimental side of BNL, but they pulled it off.

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