By Ryan Christner
The Hutchinson News
Take it from Gary Pihl: "There's really something special about going to a concert."
For 30 years a guitarist for the ultra-successful rock 'n' roll band Boston, Pihl (pronounced "peel") knows a thing or two about the experience of attending a live musical performance.
Whether it's hearing the iconic songs of a group you love, the atmosphere of sharing the excitement with thousands of equally enthusiastic strangers, or the memories made while road tripping with friends or family to get to the show, concerts have a unique ability to stay with a person long after the music ends.
"I'm looking forward to that in Dodge City," Pihl said about his band's date at United Wireless Arena on Saturday when reached by phone last week at his hotel in the Bahamas, where Boston gave a series of performances for Carnival Cruise Lines. The Dodge City concert comes three weeks after the band appeared at Wichita's INTRUST Bank Arena and is the next-to-last show in Boston's 2015 tour.
Pihl can guarantee an electric performance, too. While some may wonder if band members ever get tired of singing the same material year after year, he swears that has never been the case with him.
"I suppose if I was sitting in my living room playing them," he said, but there's nothing like getting up in front of a crowd. "You stand up on stage and you have all these people smiling and singing along. I still get choked up. I just really love playing."
As for what the audience will hear on Saturday, Pihl said the band's set lists follow a simple formula.
"We usually play all the classic hits that everyone knows of, and then we'll throw in some new stuff," he said. "We hope to get a little bit for everybody."
Hits include the timeless "More Than a Feeling," "Peace of Mind" and "Amanda" from the band's rise to stardom in the 1970s and '80s, while the newest material comes off "Life, Love & Hope," the album released in late 2013.
Driven by the scorching guitar play of Tom Scholz and soaring vocalization by Brad Delp, Boston's self-titled debut album appears scrawled in permanent marker on the historical rock ledger. With 17 million copies sold in the United States, it's the second-best-selling debut album of all time, according to Billboard magazine, and one of the best-selling albums, period, of any genre.
Pihl joined on in 1985, prior to the release of the band's third album, "Third Stage." But before that, he was an adolescent honing his musical chops in the San Francisco Bay area.
It was the mid 1960s, and a friend steered Pihl toward a talented local musician giving guitar lessons: Jerry Garcia, who was in a band called the Warlocks.
"A couple months later, they changed their name to the Grateful Dead," Pihl recalled.
His involvement in various bands provided opportunities to play with and open for acts like Janis Joplin and Norman Greenbaum, and in 1977 he joined with Sammy Hagar, touring and recording with the future Van Halen front man for eight years. The band even opened for Boston on a couple of tours, introducing Pihl to Scholz and laying the foundation for a long friendship between the two guitar players.
"I've been very fortunate to be in the right place at the right time," Pihl explained of his early success.
Boston's makeup has shuffled often over the years. Scholz is the only remaining original member, while Pihl's seniority ranks second. Joining the pair – who both supply lead and rhythm guitar and keyboards – are Beth Cohen (keyboards and rhythm guitar), Tommy DeCarlo (lead vocals, keyboards and percussion), Tracy Ferrie (bass guitar) and Jeff Neal (drums and percussion). Another drummer, Curly Smith, also plays with the band but will not appear in Dodge City.
Every member lends his or her voice in some capacity, but DeCarlo is at the center of the vocals. A longtime Boston fan, he sent the band a link to his Myspace page and videos of his personal covers of their songs, in the hope he would be asked to participate in a concert honoring Delp, whose suicide in 2007 shook the music world.
"I can only imagine when they called him up for the tribute show that he probably thought it was one of his buddies kidding him," Pihl said with a laugh, but Scholz had been won over by DeCarlo's mastery of the music. "He's been great. We love having him."
Boston has toured the country extensively over the past four decades, making several excursions into the Sunflower State. The band even ended its 2012 North American tour in Hutchinson at the Kansas State Fair's grandstand. And with family on his wife's side living in the area, Pihl said every concert in Kansas usually features a few familiar faces in the crowd.
"It is kind of special for me, too," he said.
As for the band's staying power, Pihl knows the music is good – his personal favorite song to play is "Walk On" – but he credits video games like "Guitar Hero" and "Rock Band" for creating generations of new fans in recent years.
He doesn't rule out the possibility of new music in the future, either, because "as musicians, we're always coming up with new riffs and new ideas."
It's been a good, long ride so far. And he's thankful for his (extended) 15 minutes of fame.
"You never know when yours is going to be up," Pihl said.