Ed Robertson and Steven Page formed Barenaked Ladies in the late '80s, while swimming in a sea of sarcasm. Nearly 20 years later, the two haven't changed all that much. BNL has made high art out of low humor, balancing sophisticated musicianship with clever wordplay and a refusal to take themselves -- or anyone else -- too seriously.
Robertson and Page, so the story goes, knew each other in grade school but didn't fully bond until they ran into each other in a Toronto restaurant following a Peter Gabriel concert. The two then ended up catching a late-'80s Bob Dylan show together, during one of Dylan's grumpy and curmudgeonly unintelligible periods. It was during this show -- which, according to Wikipedia, Page and Robertson described as "horrible" and "lame" -- that the two coined the name Barenaked Ladies, in a flurry of snarky creativity that found the pair inventing fictional histories for the players in Dylan's band, so bored with the show were they.
That healthy disdain for sacred cows has served Barenaked Ladies well over the years and has allowed the band to at once honor and poke fun at such revered figures as Brian Wilson, Yoko Ono and the genres of pop, rock and hip-hop in general. Of course, if they weren't such fabulous musicians, they'd never be able to pull all of this off.
The group plays Shea's Performing Arts Center, 646 Main St., at 7 p.m. Monday; Guster will open. Tickets, priced $35 to $45, can be found now at the Shea's box office, through Ticketmaster or www.livenation.com.
-- Jeff Miers