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Music Review

Barenaked Ladies, Ben Folds Five cast complex spells

Barenaked Ladies singer Ed Robertson had just sung the word “underwear” when a pair came flying toward the stage at the Bank of America Pavilion Tuesday night.

They arrived, as if on cue, during “Pinch Me,” one of several of the long-running Canadian pop band’s songs laced with a healthy dose of humor. Jim Creeggan gamely let the undies dangle from the neck of his bass, and multi-instrumentalist Kevin Hearn did the same with a pair on his guitar.

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It was the kind of moment that made you laugh out loud in an evening full of them. What else would you expect — or even want — from a bill that included Barenaked Ladies and Ben Folds Five, another group known for its serious musical chops and silly persona? (The tour, which they’re calling “Last Summer on Earth,” comes to Tanglewood, with Guster in tow, on July 23.)

Noting that BNL is now in its 25th year, the band reeled through a deep catalog that includes what Robertson called a “cavalcade of hits.” He was joking, but you could also make a case for why so many of its songs have held up so well. They were on vibrant display, still a lot of fun and still sung in unison with the crowd: “One Week,” “If I Had $1,000,000,” “Brian Wilson,” “The Old Apartment.”

Meanwhile, a song like “Blame It on Me” reminded you that when BNL isn’t busy making you smile, it can tug at your heart strings.

Ben Folds Five cast a similar spell, moving in and out of songs with complexities in both the lyrics and the arrangements. “Narcolepsy” morphed from butterfly-like precision on the piano to a crash-and-thud explosion when drummer Darren Jessee and bassist Robert Sledge locked into a groove with Folds.

Flush with harmonies and a moony melody, “Missing the War” sent shivers down the spine the way Harry Nilsson managed. Reacting to the patter tapping against the Pavilion tent, Folds at one point launched into a playful and credible version of “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head.”

By that measure, Boothby Graffoe was a kindred spirit in the opening slot. The English comedian is also a singer and songwriter, spinning deadpan tales that sound like earnest folk tunes until you realize what, exactly, he’s saying. Surely his performance marked the first time the phrase “pussycat’s testicles” has been uttered from the Pavilion stage.

James Reed can be reached at jreed@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeJamesReed.
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