In Boston’s own words ‘it’s been such a long time’ for UK fans who would need to be 50 or over to have seen their last shows here in 1979. To catch the legendary band whose self-titled 1976 monster arguably invented the genre we know as AOR, you need to take the proverbial mountain to Mohammed.
Even in the USA they are a far less prolific touring act than most of their contemporaries, and despite my gigging stateside each year, it had been a long decade since I saw them live.
However a first album in 11 years in Life, Love and Hope had encouraged the Boston spaceship to fly into orbit once more, and I was pointed in the direction of Albuquerque, in this perfectly sized outdoor amphitheatre (about 6000 seats, most with a perfect view) in the grounds of a casino taking its name from the Sandia mountain ranges that loom over the city from every angle.
As a bonus there was a support band in Cheap Trick who in their own right were just as seminal as Boston in the late seventies, with a brand of power-pop which has influenced a whole generation of subsequent bands, and there is always something magical about their iconic band logo and chequered stage set.
However I have tended to find their live shows rather enigmatic as they tend to shake up the setlist and dust off obscurities, even in environments such as this where a Greatest Hits type set is the most sensible option.
However this time they stuck to a tried and tested set, opening with Budokan favourites ‘Hello There’ and ‘Clock Strikes Ten’ before ‘Ain’t That a Shame’ and ‘California Man’ got substantial numbers to their feet dancing, unfortunately not where I was sat.
Only that afternoon, after dragging my girlfriend secondhand CD shopping, she had snapped up their Greatest Hits on my recommendation, so it was a bizarre coincidence that a trio of tracks from it – ‘She’s Tight’, ‘If You Want My Love’ (even if Robin Zander’s voice sounded rather rougher-edged) and the ELO-like ‘Voices’ all found their way back into the set.
The pace was also maintained throughout, except when the raffish Tom Peterson was allowed a bass solo slot before relieving Robin of the mike during ‘I Know What I Like’.
With ‘Never Had A Lot To Lose’ thrown in to appease the diehards, a very satisfying hour long set ended with the biggest hits ‘I Want You To Want Me’, ‘Dream Police’ and ‘Surrender’ rattled off, still sounding fresh after all these years, before Rick Nielsen brought out his famous five necked guitar for an encore of ‘Goodnight Now’.
Unfortunately by the end of their set the skies had darkened and the heavens opened with only plastic rain wear for protection. Worse still, as thunder claps echoed around the bowl, there was a possibility the show might be called off, not that we were given the courtesy of any announcements. Whether through safety checks or the band’s notorious perfectionism, the interval before Boston extended to a whole hour and a half.
They finally came on without ceremony at 9.30, with a decent lighting show but plain stage set, but what an opening with a trio of classics in ‘Rock And Roll Band’, ‘Smokin’ – Tom Scholz taking to his massive bank of keyboards to play the organ solo – and ‘Feelin Satisfied’, complete with handclaps.
I had to do a double take with singer Tommy Di Carlo’s long hair and saturnine, bearded features being a dead ringer for Brad Delp. Without the help of the departed David Victor, though assisted by some immaculate harmony vocals, he made a decent effort at replicating the much-missed singer’s irreplaceable vocals, but for all his efforts to work the stage is not a natural rock frontman – understandably so for a man plucked late in career from working at America’s answer to B and Q, Home Depot.
Some momentum was lost with a pair of songs from ‘Life Love And Hope’, and the rather tangled mess of the title track suggested that the critical pasting of the album was not wrong. But the main focus was on the classics such as ‘Cool The Engines’ and ‘Don’t Look Back’, albeit broken up by some rather pointless instrumentals..
However I was feeling ambivalent about Boston as a live entity. Some bands see live performance as an entertainment show, where putting on a spectacle and involving the audience matters, while others – the Eagles being a case in point – allow the music to speak for itself and faithfully replicate the original songs note by note.
I had been spoiled by having seen Foreigner, Styx and REO Speedwagon the previous week, all of whom fall into the former camp, and Boston’s approach was less engaging in comparison.
In addition, the songs were stultifyingly identical to their studio versions and while enjoying the harmony guitar leads of Tom and bemulleted guitar twin Gary Pihl on the likes of the classic ‘Peace of Mind’ and ‘Something About You’, I yearned for some of the improvisation and fresh twists that the likes of Thin Lizzy and Wishbone Ash have always given to similar musical passages in live shows. The overall impression was confirmed that the music was just a touch too clinical and mechanical.
There was a surprise as the striking Kimberley Dahme took on the lead vocals on a version of ‘Surrender To Me’ that had the guts the studio original lacked, before Tom hinted they would play their biggest hits, and keyboards and acoustic guitars were to the fore during the ballad ‘Amanda’, which didn’t spark the crowd enthusiasm I expected, while Kimberley actually played a twin lead with Tom.
An instrumental passage led into one of the iconic songs of rock, ‘More Than A Feeling’, again delivered to the exact musical, if not vocal template.
Most bands would have saved such a legendary song for the end of the set, but Boston’s was strangely paced as far from being the climax, the set continued with ballad ‘To Be a Man’ and ‘Walk On’, guest Siobhan Magnus duetting with Tommy in the over the top vocal stylings that are the hallmark of former American Idol singers.
However mid-section the song went off into a tedious and seemingly endless jam, killing all momentum. With the late start and it being a ‘school night’ there were banks of empty seats behind us as people gave up the unequal struggle.
The protracted ‘Foreplay’ intro on Tom’s Hammond only added to the frustration, but at least ‘Long Time’ did spark the crowd into life, Tommy working the stage and encouraging those who were left to join in with the handclaps, while the band belatedly loosened up and jammed more spontaneously.
After Gary introduced the band, ‘Party’ continued the belated mood of getting the crowd involved, but as a solitary encore and one of their shortest songs, it felt a bit of a perfunctory one.
Boston’s status as legends and indeed pioneers of a dominant strand of American rock will always be secure, and on purely musical grounds this evening amply proved that. However on this evidence one thing they cannot be classed as is a great live act per se.
Review and Photos by Andy Nathan
David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 2 August 2020.
UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 ( BST, GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 4 August 2020.
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