Former Barenaked Ladies singer Steven Page knows how to take care of his fans.
Since the start of the pandemic, Page has performed more than 90 “Live from Home” livestream shows with different sets each time.
“I owe it to them to play surprising stuff every time,” Page says via Zoom.
“So, I’ve done every song I’ve ever written — and maybe songs I was embarrassed by — at least once now over the course of this. When you look back on diary entries you made when you were a teenager, you can’t help but be a little bit embarrassed about that. My songs are essentially that.
“In the livestreams, I’ve been playing Barenaked Ladies songs I didn’t write or sing, like ‘Pinch Me.’ It’s been fun. It’s not the kind of thing I would do every day at the in-person shows, but it allowed me to have a new relationship with all of the Barenaked Ladies material as well as my solo stuff. I’m feeling a lot less precious about it.”
BNL singer Ed Robertson lends his vocals to “Pinch Me.”
Page will perform BNL and solo songs during a gig at the Musical Instrument Museum on Sunday, January 22. He’ll be joined by Craig Northey from The Odds on guitar and Kevin Fox on cello.
“We’ve been doing it in this format for, I’d say, almost seven years now,” Page says. “And we play everything from the first Barenaked Ladies album all the way to the most recent record — and we have so much fun doing it. I think the audience gets that as well. We just really enjoy being around each other, traveling with each other and playing with each other.”
Page says he constantly reminds himself how lucky he is to still be playing music as post-pandemic competition is fierce.
“It’s hard out there,” Page says. “Everybody in the world is out on the road right now. So, you’re competing with your peers everywhere you go, which is a strange feeling.”
Sometimes, it just comes down to compromise.
“Recently, we did a show in a venue directly next door to a venue (in St. Louis) where Guster was playing,” Page says.
“We have fans in common, and that seemed very unfair. So, we decided we would trade encores. So, we ran across the alley, and they played for our audience and we played a song for their audience. Trying to coordinate the timing was a little awkward, but we just texted as we shuffled through the shows.”
Page is touring in support of his latest album, “Excelsior,” his first solo record since 2018. The collection’s 11 tracks were composed and produced entirely by Page, who co-founded Barenaked Ladies before departing on a solo career in 2009.
The lion’s share of “Excelsior” was “workshopped” on the “Live from Home” virtual concert series Page has been conducting via Zoom since 2020 from his home near Syracuse, New York.
“I kept thinking I could make this thing happen by traveling up to Canada and recording it, which I couldn’t do,” he says about the pandemic.
“So, I ended up just doing almost all that myself, apart from some of the drums and the strings that Kevin Fox played. I’ve never really done a record like that where it’s all me. It feels very exposed, and it’s the first album I’ve done where they’re all sole compositions, meaning I haven’t co-written with anybody else. I was proud of it at the very end of it, but I was very nervous about it the whole time making it.”
Page’s songs are personal and thus sometimes difficult to write and perform.
“I’ve been put in a position — partially by me — where I had to be honest about things like my mental health struggles,” he says. “I’ve been doing public speaking about it and writing songs about it for years. But when I was younger, I was writing songs about it, and I think being slightly coy about the whole thing.
“But then I could no longer afford to be coy about it. I realized I was getting such feedback from people about how helpful or liberating or comforting it was for them (fans) to hear somebody else sharing similar experiences and similar struggles. And after doing that, I got less afraid of being honest about the emotional journey.”
His music and lyrics have impacted fans since the early days. Case in point: the BNL song “Brian Wilson,” which Page calls “one of the earliest songs I ever wrote when I was about 19.”
“I wasn’t diagnosed with anything then,” he says about his mental health state. “It’s a real gift to the middle-aged Steven to kind of see what young Steven was willing to explore. At the end of the day, that was a song about the power of music.”
Songs like “Brian Wilson” are comforting and make listeners feel like they’re not so alone, he says.
“With mental health struggles, you feel like you’re the only person who feels that way,” he says.
“Even if you rationally know you’re not in that moment, there’s a feeling of loneliness and isolation and music can create companionship that doesn’t pander.”
Recently, Page opened for The Who on the East Coast leg of the classic rock band’s jaunt. Most of the set featured familiar Barenaked Ladies songs, but fans will hear more from “Excelsior” at the MIM.
“We had about 40 minutes in front of 20,000 people,” he recalls. “I don’t need to go out there and play them my new stuff. I think I needed to go out there and remind them who I am in case they didn’t recognize it. Now, we can settle into playing the hits plus digging into the back catalog and learning some of the new stuff and just feeling like it’s a little bit more freeform.”
Like the MIM or the Village Theater at Cherry Hill in Canton, Michigan, Page is focused on playing venues that are serious about music. They tend to work best, he says.
“I mean, we can play anywhere,” he is quick to add.
“I’m happy to play anywhere people want to come to see us. I’m not finicky about that anymore. If it happens to be a black box or a rock ’n’ roll bar, that’s fine. I do want the audience to be comfortable. Honestly, my audience is not as young as we once were.
“The romance of standing in the back all night wears off pretty quickly. I spent 30 years of my life in those rooms. I’m comfortable in them, but I’m not that nostalgic about it. I want everybody to feel like they have a comfortable place to enjoy the show. If the venue is a little bit stuffy, we always say people will remember, from seeing me 30 years ago, that that spirit of blowing up the stuffiness will always be there.”
WHEN: 7 p.m. Sunday, January 22
WHERE: Musical Instrument Museum, 4725 E. Mayo Boulevard, Phoenix
COST: Tickets start at $38.50
INFO: 480-478-6000, mim.org