We may never get answers from Steven Page about the inspiration behind lyrics like “Chickity China the Chinese chicken.” However, the former frontman of The Barenaked Ladies will perhaps teach his Orange County fans about a different music genre on Feb. 11 when he performs alongside the Art of Time Ensemble at the Musco Center for the Arts at Chapman University.
Page, who led the quirky, Canadian band in the 90s through 2009 with poppy hits like “One Week” and “Pinch Me,” has been performing with the Art of Time Ensemble for a decade. The Canadian-based classical, jazz and pop ensemble led by pianist/director Andrew Burashko includes a variety of programming but focuses on bringing together different art forms and disciplines.
Part of their repertoire also includes “Songbook” concerts in which pop singers sing covers of songs with contemporary arrangements backed by instruments like violins, cellos, bass guitars, saxophones and clarinets.
Page says he enjoys playing with the Art of Time Ensemble to create a musical salad of sorts with songs from groups like the Beatles and Radiohead.
“It’s an interesting thing because we come from different disciplines,” he says. “I come from a pop and rock background, and there’s someone else who’s a classical player, who might be a quicker and better sheet music reader than I am. I bring something different to the table. Early on in your experience with that kind of mixture of disciplines, it can be a little daunting. For a lot of us in the pop and jazz fields, we feel somehow challenged or inferior at times. It doesn’t take long for you to realize that’s not really the case. Everybody is there because of what they bring to the performance.”
He says performing these shows is like creating a playlist of some of his favorite songs, but he puts his own spin on them to avoid straight covers.
He adds that the show can attract his long-time fans, people who enjoy classical music and those interested in exploring other genres of music.
“People who are interested in great songs can come and enjoy it on that level,” he says. “People who are fans of mine can spend an evening hanging out with me and hearing me sing. For people who are interested in going to see something that is, perhaps something more challenging, this is entertaining. There’s none of the stuffiness that comes with a classical or chamber music concert. It’s a nice way to be able to enjoy and mentally dig into some of that stuff without necessarily feeling like you have to dress up.”
For Sunday’s Orange County Songbook show — the only of its kind in Southern California — Page expects to perform tunes by a “newer canon of great North American songwriters,” like Leonard Cohen and Randy Newman, as well as songs from newer or lesser-known writer like John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats.
Page, who expects to release his next solo album by the end of this spring, will also perform a selection of Barenaked Ladies songs spun with a twist from the ensemble. The Barenaked Ladies will also be inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame next month and will reunite for the first time since Page’s departure almost a decade ago.
However, while fans will be able to enjoy Barenaked Ladies songs like “Brian Wilson,” Page will not perform one of the band’s most popular songs, “One Week” — which was featured in ’90s films like “American Pie” — at least not this time around.
“Maybe one day in the future,” he says. “We don’t have an arrangement of that yet, but it’s an interesting idea for sure. I’d be interested to see what someone could cook up for that.”
Steven Page of the Barenaked Ladies plays with the Art of Time Ensemble at the Musco Center for the Arts at Chapman University on Feb. 11 beginning at 7:30 p.m. Ticket prices range from $30 to $55. For tickets and more information, click here.