By Jeff Miers
Perhaps the band is the epitome of what we call "classic rock." Or, more likely, Boston was simply a concept birthed in the mind of a visionary artist, one that just happened to catch on in a major way in the latter '70s, and we all accepted the pinning of the "classic rock" tag on a sound that was conceived without such pretensions.
Labels, in music as in the rest of life, often have very little to do with the art they are thrust upon, and more to do with after-the-fact marketing concerns.
On Tuesday, an enthused and sizeable crowd gathered to catch the 2012 incarnation of Boston in the live format. Following the death several years back of original vocalist Brad Delp - who along with mastermind Tom Scholz conceived and recorded the first Boston album, now one of the highest selling debut albums in rock history - Boston had a lot to prove.
Delp has one analog in the annals of the music, and that is the late Jeff Buckley. Like Buckley, Delp was a supremely gifted singer with an incredible range and an equally incredible sense of pitch, dynamics and soulfulness. Replacing him following his tragic suicide was no small matter for Scholz. Like everything the guy - an inventor, iconic songwriter and producer, sublime guitarist, and industry maverick - has done since the 1976 debut of his studio project, Scholz took his time with the task.
Tuesday's concert unveiled to Western New York fans the considerable talents of frontman Tommy DeCarlo and his co-vocalist, guitarist David Victor. Both more than held their own and measured up to Delp's incredibly high standard. Rather than mimic Delp, DeCarlo and Victor simply sang his lines with consummate skill, subtlety and grace. The vocal harmonies throughout the show - aided by Scholz, drummer Curly Smith, guitarist Gary Pihl and bassist Tracy Ferrie - were spot-on and inspired.
That's a significant point, because Boston's music is harmony-heavy, a beautifully bombastic blend of rock muscle and power-pop tunefulness.
This stuff simply can't be faked. In the live format, these iconic songs require a delivery that at least matches the harmonic integrity of the immaculately produced studio recordings, now a fully tenured part of the rock canon.
From the opening moments of "Rock & Roll Band" through the final reverberations of second encore "Party," the 2012 version of Boston nailed it on all counts. The vocal and guitar harmonies, the progressive cadences of the "epics," the fire and brimstone on one hand and the sophisticated sense of groove and arrangement on the other - all bases were covered.
The opening grouping of tunes from the band's first two albums, "Boston" and "Don't Look Back" - both multi-platinum efforts - offered us a torrid "Smokin'," with Scholz switching between guitar and organ, the harmony-heavy and glorious "Feelin' Satisfied," and the stately "Peace Of Mind" in rapid succession. The performance, like the quality of the live sound itself, was simply flawless. Fifteen minutes in, and the crowd was resting comfortably in the palm of Scholz and company's hand.
"Cool the Engines," a corker from the '80s effort "Third Stage," led into guitarist Victor's first lead vocal of the night, "Surrender To Me." Like his cohort DeCarlo, Victor had no trouble scaling the peaks of the ambitious melody. As good as the performance was, it couldn't mask the fact that this was not one of the evening's strongest compositions, however. It stood out simply because its surrounding competition was so stiff.
"Don't Look Back" featured the glorious trademark Scholz guitar harmonies, handled by the man himself and Pihl, a member of the band for some 26 years now. The latter took an eloquent solo during the song's coda. One of several Scholz-led interludes fell gracefully into "Something About You," and by this point, those doubting DeCarlo's abilities as a vocalist were simply deluding themselves. The guy was on it, plain and simple.
"The Launch" segued nimbly into the evergreen "More Than A Feelin'," a timeless ode to the healing power of the muse herself. Naturally, the place erupted.
It should be noted that Boston was conceived from the beginning as a studio project. Scholz and Delp recorded Boston's debut in the former's basement, long before they had a record deal. This makes them one of the very first indie-rock bands, a fact which flies in the face of their later miscasting as "corporate rockers."
Scholz put together a touring band after the music was already recorded, and that's something he's done ever since, with the exception of Delp, who was with the band from the beginning until his death. So a rotating cast has always been part of the deal. The vision was initially and remains today the purview of Scholz, who is simply a brilliant musician, songwriter, producer, arranger, and bandleader.
Boston's music has lost none of its power.
By Jeff Miers