What a week with three big classic-rock shows within five days in L.A.
First Boston and Cheap Trick, then Chicago and REO Speedwagon, and then Journey and Steve Miller
By Gerry Gittelson
Metal Sludge Editor at Large
LOS ANGELES — Like a time capsule going back 25 years, I spent the past week going to three concerts featuring some of my favorite bands when I was in high school – first Boston and Cheap Trick on Tuesday, July 29 at the Forum, then REO Speedwagon and Chicago on Thursday, July 31 at the Greek Theatre, then Journey and Steve Miller on Saturday, Aug. 2 at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre in Irvine.
I felt like I was a kid again, though I did not smoke any pot the whole time, and now with the perspective of being a rock critic all these years, I can’t help but compare the performances in a quest to detail which ones have held up well and which ones are ready to call it a day.
Boston was amazing. They were the best of all – and that’s noteworthy because the band has not always had the best reputation as a live act compared to their greatness in the studio.
That said, Boston absolutely tore it up at the Forum.
The group stuck mostly to all the classic hits, mixing in only a small handful of new songs from the ill-received “Life, Love & Hope,” and the capacity crowd ate it up. My gosh, I have not witnessed a band that sounded this good with such incredible dynamics in a long time.
Opening with a roaring version of “Rock & Roll Band,” Boston proved ultra-tight and utterly clean, partially thanks to the building’s revamped, high-tech PA system, and the place was going wild. Then came “Smokin’” and “Feelin’ Satisfied,” and at that point Boston had total control of the room.
The last time we had seen Boston live in Los Angeles, new vocalist Tommy DeCarlo was just starting out, having been discovered on youtube, and back then he was overweight and without the charisma to be a frontman for such a majestic band – and co-lead singer Michael Sweet (now gone) also sucked that night – but wow what a difference a few years has made. This time, DeCarlo was a different man, well-fit and confident, and my goodness he sang well as a replacement for the late Brad Delp, who was about as irreplaceable as a lead singer could be.
The songs were tuned down a step or so, but except for failing to hit the very highest notes like on “Peace of Mind” and a few others, DeCarlo was right in the groove. And it should be pointed out the background vocals were great with NO samples. That’s important.
On “Don’t Look Back,” Scholz was his usual dominant self, the lanky guitarist tearing his way through the classic radio hit — including that unforgettable mid-song guitar riff — and he was Eddie Van Halen-like when he broke into a guitar solo about an hour into the spectacle.
Co-guitarist Gary Pihl proved impressive, too, and with a total of eight players up there making music, Boston put on a show that was richly dramatic and geared toward optimum audience enjoyment.
Everything was going splendidly until former American idol finalist Siobhan Magnus jumped on stage towards the end for “Walk On” and almost ruined the whole thing with her screaming – guess Scholz is just too nice to say no – but the momentum was back in Boston’s hands with “Foreplay/Longtime,” then an encore of “Party” to finish the evening with an exclamation point.
Overall, a five-star performance. This is about as good as it gets in the classic-rock circuit.
Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick always the entertainer
Openers Cheap Trick proved great, too. Robin Zander has never sounded better, and oh what a treat it was to hear well-executed versions of “Ain’t That a Shame,” “California Man,” “Surrender, “Dream Police” and of course “I Want You to Want Me.”
Zany guitarist Rick Nielsen appeared to be having the time of his life, jumping around the stage, switching guitars and throwing out an endless stream of guitar picks.
Then came REO Speedwagon. Not so good.
In the context of all rock performances, REO Speedwagon proved relatively entertaining wat the famed Greek. Yet based on the Chicago group’s own standards through decades of successful arena tours, hit singles and one of the greatest melodic-rock albums of all time in 1981 with ‘Hi-Infidelity,’ the fivesome pretty much stunk up the place.
Just about every hit song was ruined by intentionally slowing the tempo – not to mention being tuned down at least one step – and there was definitely something wrong with the way Kevin Cronin was singing; that’s something unusual because Cronin is usually the best thing about REO Speedwagon.
Perhaps this was on off-night because Cronin’s voice might have been strained – sometimes he was kind of talking the lyrics instead of actually singing them – or perhaps REO Speedwagon felt it was a good idea to slow things down so considerably because they’re touring with Chicago, a more mellow act than REO Speedwagon’s usual tour-mates like Styx or Journey over the past ten years or so.
At any rate, the whole thing was rather disappointing because surely we were not the only ones who wanted to hear such selections as “Keep On Loving You” and “Can’t Fight This Feeling” executed just as we remember them from our car radios.
Instead of jumping up and going crazy like most would on a summer weekend night in the band’s adopted home city, the crowd mostly remained in their chairs and politely applauded, but it was clear to most of us that something was just not right.
Plus, Cronin did way too much talking between songs, even though he is generally charismatic and delightfully glib, and there were too many unfamiliar selections for such a short set. A lot of big hits were there, but there was a lot of filler, too, with “Music Man,” “That Ain’t Love” and an abysmal new one called “Whipping Boy.”
REO Speedwagon was rounded out by guitarist Dave Amato, bassist Bruce Hall (who like usual sang “Back on The Road Again”), keyboardist Neal Doughty, and aptly named drummer Bryan Hitt.
To be fair, though the concert seemed like a double bill, Chicago played last and were the real headliners, so this was essentially their crowd and not REO Speedwagon’s, though back in the day REO was probably bigger at its peak yet has not sold as many records total nor enjoyed as many hits overall.
Chicago killed, even without long-gone original singer Peter Cetera, as the jazzy six-piece really got the crowd going with their catchy soft rock.
Then, after Chicago has been going for a little more than an hour, REO Speedwagon returned to the stage to join in, so there were 11 musicians up there – including three percussionists – and together they all played six more songs, including “Ridin’ The Storm Out,” “Keep On Loving You” and “Roll With The Changes,” and by this point REO Speedwagon had pretty much salvaged the night and returned to our good graces.
The last song, Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4,” saw the singers from both bands taking turns, and the whole thing was pretty cool.
Journey frontman Arnel Pineda
Finally, Journey. For me, they were the crem de la crem when I was a kid, my favorite band in the whole world. Of course, they had Steve Perry then, and now it’s Arnel Pineda doing the lead singing, and that makes a big difference, though Pineda has found a home as the third Journey front man following stints by Steve Augeri and Jeff Scott Soto.
I kind of wanted to give Journey a bad review since the group’s PR company has pretty much shut me out ever since I did an interview with someone who had bad-mouthed the band a couple of years back.
But I can’t. I honestly loved ‘em. Maybe it was because I was in the front row for this concert compared to being a bit far back for the other two, but god this band has so many great songs, and god they do ‘em all so well, and god I still love keyboardist Jon Cain and guitarist Neal Schon so much, plus drummer Deen Castronovo is so amazing, including doing an excellent job imitating Perry while singing lead on “Mother, Father,” a major highlight.
This band just keeps on going, and excellence is their motto. The hits just keep on coming, from “Separate Ways” to “Any Way You Want It” to “Stone in Love” to “Lights” to “Open Arms” to “Wheel in The Sky” to “Faithfully” to “Don’t Stop Believing” to “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’.”
I think the only big hit they left out was “Whose Crying Now,” but Journey can’t go on all evening, right?
This was the last performance of a long summer tour, and Journey gave it everything they had. The crowd was going nuts, singing along to all the chorus-heavy hits and high-fiving each other and just kind of enjoying a love fest under warm skies with a little drizzle thrown in that did not seem to bother any of us one bit.
There were major recorded samples on the background vocals, and for this reason alone I have to hand first place to Boston, but there is no question about it – Journey still packs a wallop.
It was a great week overall. I felt so young again, kind of recapturing my youth and bringing myself back to a time when rock music was the most important thing in my life. Actually, it probably still is, but the cold hard fact is I don’t get to enjoy it as much with classic bands dying one by one, year after year; as for new music, blah. I am a relic.
Steve Miller was good, too, with lots of memorable songs like “Jungle Love,” “Take the Money and Run,” “Jet Airliner” and “Fly Like an Eagle.” But he just kind of stands there, his band is not particularly dynamic, and after a while I got kind of bored.
Still, Miller was entertaining overall, and this was my first-ever chance seeing him play.
At any rare, there won’t be many more weeks like these, as the cruel sands of time move forward, so maybe I was just soaking it all in. And that’s OK. Rock music is supposed to make you feel good, and this past week was just what I needed, I guess.
After Journey, my ears were even ringing a bit. God it felt nice.
Gerry Gittelson can be reached at [email protected]
Photos of Boston and Cheap Trick by Jon Viscott