Steven Page - Empire Hall, Belfast

Review: Steven Page – Empire Music Hall, Belfast

Best known for his work with Canadian alternative pop-rock outfit Barenaked Ladies, Steven Page has long departed from the band and carved his own path. He’s teamed up with long-time collaborators Craig Northey of Odds and jolly cellist Kevin Fox for a tour featuring two guitars, a cello, and an iconic voice. This was Page’s first solo tour on the island, and our first chance to hear BnL songs live in over 10 years.

Starting off the night was Craig Northey and Kevin Fox. Northey played a few tracks from his Odds discography. Initially seeming a bit nervous, he gave a nice performance with Fox’s cello adding a strong depth and backing to the set. It was then Fox’s turn as he recorded music on his cello and layered in real-time. He had amazing emotion on stage, enjoying every second, it was hard for it not to infect the crowd. Hearing the trio’s other members’ music as support gave the show great character to start.

The main set begun with a swell of cello and guitar as Steven Page walked on stage, humbly waved and sat at the piano. He pinged it off with ‘There’s A Melody II’, tight staccato notes playing while Page sang “there’s a melody somewhere inside of me, I can hear it but can’t get it out of me” creating a wonderful dam to burst as the band built a cacophony of sound.

When I first heard this would be a trio of guitars, and cello, I was sceptical. A lot of Page’s music has fairly prominent percussion. The support provided a good argument, but after Page’s first song I was absolutely sold. It was consistently amazing how full the sound felt.

For the second track, a teasing cello intro revealed itself to be BnL’s ‘Jane’. It was like opening a Christmas present, each track having a beautiful cello wrapping, not knowing what was coming next.

A great standout early on was ‘A New Shore’. A wonderfully optimistic track about leaving familiarity in search of something new, ending with a delightfully cheesy build-up and cathartic yell of “land ho!”. It was the first time I got goosebumps that night, and a perfect example of Page’s powerful and underrated voice.

There was a lot of great banter, a highlight being before ‘White Noise’ from Page’s upcoming album Heal Thyself Pt. 2: Discipline, where he stated that protest songs aren’t his usual stick but being an immigrant and Jewish man living in America, it seemed like a good time for it.

The setlist was a healthy mix of Steven Page solo work and long-awaited Barenaked Ladies tracks. Aside from fan-favourites like ‘Old Apartment’, ‘Enid’ and ‘What A Good Boy’, we were treated to quite a few requests. There were binders FULL of songs which they flicked to the right page and got stuck in. An absolute highlight was ‘War On Drugs’ off BnL’s Everything to Everyone. This very sad song covers divorce, the shame associated with controlling mental illness, and suicide; the track journeyed from an understated acoustic beginning to an explosion of emotion as Page belts “the very fear that makes you want to die, is just the same as what keeps you alive, it’s way more trouble than some suicide is worth”. Goosebumps again, absolutely amazing, and one I hope the trio keeps playing.

There were a few medleys; following ‘War On Drugs’ we got a set of cheery songs to stop everyone crying. ‘My Girl/ Diamonds On the Soles of Her Shoes/ Gloria/ Brown-Eyed Girl/ Have You Ever Seen The Rain’ had the crowd laughing you just didn’t know what was coming next. Later we were given a medley of Genesis tracks. ‘Supper’s Ready/ That’s All’, veered into an impressive Gabriel impression on ‘Here Comes the Flood’, and Page admitting he didn’t know much Mike & the Mechanics.

Closing their main set, they ended with the iconic ‘Brian Wilson’, the crowd sang along as it built to the insane outro. Encore-wise the Genesis medley lead into ‘Call And Answer’. It was a poignant end with a brief interlude of ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, and even though Page goofed up the first chorus with a brief interlude of choking, it was a lovely hair-raising cap on the night.

I was so pleased with this gig, it really went above and beyond expectations. The turn-out was modest with maybe 50 people there, but it was a geg and had an incredible atmosphere. I haven’t even touched on fantastic emotional moments like the heart-breaking ‘Break Your Heart’, the hilarious Jesus banter leading to ‘I Can See My House From Here’, the surprise cajoning of Liam McKinnon, or the wildly ominous ‘I Live With It Every Day’, but all I can say is if you get the chance, catch these phenomenal guys live.