By Steve Morse
At: the House of Blues, Monday night
Usually when the band Boston performs, it's a high-pressure gig in a packed-to-the-gills arena. Remember, this was the band that made its New York debut by playing three nights at Madison Square Garden in the late '70s. No other band has done that before or since. And Boston still holds the record for most Worcester Centrum shows in one engagement -- a whopping nine nights back in the late '80s.
So it was a treat to see the reconstituted Boston -- still with eternally boyish, sonic-guitar whiz Tom Scholz -- scaling down to the play the House of Blues last night. They had never played a club in town before (their local debut was Boston Garden), but they delivered the goods musically and played for a good cause. Before the two-hour benefit show was done, Scholz handed checks of $5,000 to Globe Santa and another $5,000 to Operation Christmas in Fall River.
The famously lush, vocal-heavy Boston sound was administered with note- perfect flair, almost as if you were listening to the records. Scholz is a notorious perfectionist (to the point of asking the House of Blues to rewire its sound for the occasion), but his fussiness paid dividends. The sound quality was downright spectacular -- and not too decibel-heavy, either, unlike the recent, ear-blasting Black Crowes show at the Paradise.
Another plus was that Boston used two lead singers last night -- and both acquitted themselves well. Original singer Brad Delp, who was not on the latest album, returned to ignite the sold-out, elbow-to-elbow crowd on "Long Time," "Don't Look Back" and "Party." He's been playing in a Beatles cover band on the North Shore (Beatle Juice), so he stepped easily into the role. And new singer Fran Cosmo, who started tentatively last night, also rose to the occasion later on, hitting the encore "Smokin' " particularly hard.
Boston plans a shed tour this summer (coming to Great Woods) and there's a distinct possibility that Delp will join up. That would help from the charisma angle, because Delp has more of it than Cosmo (who is more introverted on stage by comparison), though Cosmo's pipes are quite compatible. The two singers effectively swapped a number of lead vocals during songs -- and the night really took off when they sang harmonies.
Most importantly, though, the singers got along easily on stage, without a hint of competitiveness. Delp, who's been an underrated singer for years, was quite gracious in letting Cosmo step out front. And on newer songs "Walk On" and "What's Your Name," Cosmo handled those duties well. The surprise was that Delp was out for the entire show (that part had been kept a secret) and it really enhanced the performance.
Scholz, wearing a sleeveless "Boston" T-shirt, added his patently smooth licks, though he soared on "Cool the Engines," especially. More guitar heroics came from former Sammy Haggar axman Gary Pihl, who filled in the leads when Scholz moved over to play his trademark manic organ riffs. (And no, the pipe organ that's characteristic of their arena shows was not there.)
The band also unveiled new drummer Curley Smith, who laid down a solid beat and sang harmonies as well (as did carryover bassist Dave Sikes). The band opened on a surprising note with "The Star Spangled Banner," hit an immediate classic in "Rock & Roll Band." They soon settled into a comfortable, two-set show that hit ballad highlights ("Amanda" was still touching), plus rocked out with crisp efficiency ("More than a Feeling" soared) and included two Christmas songs: Charles Brown's "Merry Christmas Baby" and John Lennon's "Happy Xmas (War is Over)."
By Steve Morse