USANA Amphitheatre on Thursday was filled with ‘90s nostalgia brought on by the music of Guster and Ben Folds Five. But for headliner Barenaked Ladies, the absence of Steven Page marred the band’s usual witty interplay and fun-loving improvisation with each other and the audience filled with throngs of young professionals and their children.
Each band billed on the Last Summer on Earth tour played for about an hour, bringing back memories of the time when the Internet was still in swaddling clothes and the innocence we enjoyed in a pre-9/11 world.
That sense of carefree fun resonated throughout Guster’s members — the hand-played bongos of Brian Rosenworcel, the guitar work of Adam Gardner and the croonings of lead singer Ryan Miller. Their jeans may have been skinnier and their baseball caps truckier, but the trio performed classics such as “Barrel of a Gun,” “Satellite,” and “Airport Song” with the same engaging pizzazz that has drawn audiences for two decades.
They battled the 7:30 p.m. blaze of USANA’s west-facing stage with the help of sunglasses donated by audience members, and kept their 45-minute set rolling without much time to talk with the crowd, other than to invite members to stand and dance.
Ben Folds Five, who got back together late last year after a dozen-year hiatus, smashed through piano-heavy hits such as “Song for the Dumped,” “Brick,” and even threw in Ben Folds’ solo single “Landed.” To the delight of the crowd, the group ended with “Army,” a song the trio didn’t play at its Jan. 25 Las Vegas show that many die-hard Utah fans attended before the June show was announced.
Many in the crowd sported Ben Folds Five T-Shirts from years ago, but still were able to sing along to every word of new songs on the album “The Sound of the Life of the Mind” such as “Do It Anyway” and “Erase Me.” Folds’ lyrics and music kept the continuity of his previous works, and the trio’s performance felt like old friends picking up a conversation as if only seconds — and not years — had passed.
The same couldn’t be said for Barenaked Ladies.
Lead singer Ed Robertson brought his charm and wit in his freestyle rap about Hogle Zoo and the Montage hotel in Park City, but it was a quick spark that quickly dissipated. The nights of improvisation and banter between he and former bandmate Page, who departed in 2009, sadly are gone, and the band — and audience — suffered for it.
Barenaked Ladies always has communicated its deeper emotional core through humor, but both were lost without the comedic interplay the Canadian pop stars were known for in their first two decades. Even classics such as “One Week” and “If I had a Million Dollars” lost some of their charm without it Thursday night.
New songs from the album “Grinning Streak” — such as the catchy “Boomerang” and the uplifting nerd anthem “Odds Are” — show promise for a whole new sound as they celebrate their 25th year performing. But the now-four piece band can’t conjure up the joys of the past because a piece of its soul is simply missing.
It was a bittersweet end to what was otherwise a joyful trip down memory lane.