By Scott Mervis
It's been such a long time ...
Yeah, in fact, it was starting to look a lot like Boston didn't like Pittsburgh. Boston the band, not the city.
Despite just about every other arena-rock band from the '70s making frequent stops here, Boston skipped Pittsburgh on both its 2004 and 2008 tours. Those were very different tours, as 2004 was the final run for beloved singer Brad Delp, who took his own life three years later. The 2008 tour introduced Tommy DeCarlo, who was discovered via YouTube while working at Home Depot in Charlotte, N.C.
The Boston faithful got their first look at him four years ago, but it was all new to us Friday night at a packed Stage AE.
On his second run, Mr. DeCarlo certainly looks more the part, with his hair grown out and the hardware-guy mustache expanded into the aging rock-star goatee. Judging from footage of the last tour, he also seems more animated in the frontman role. Between his range and vocal tone -- not to mention his humility and respect for Mr. Delp -- they could not have found a better man to step in for the original.
True to form, guitarist/songwriter Tom Scholz, the only full-fledged "member" of Boston, has the six-man crew -- with co-vocalist/guitarist David Victor, guitarist/keyboardist Gary Pihl, bassist Tracy Ferrie and drummer Curly Smith -- clicking to perfection.
Boston hit the shadowy lit stage with "Rock and Roll Band," creating that sonic wall of sound it trademarked 36 years ago. The guys cranked it more and dirtied it up for a "Smokin'" that really did smoke and a "Peace of Mind" that shot off into space. Mr. Scholz doesn't get mentioned much with the Van Halens of the world, but he has a guitar tone you could pick out anywhere, and just about every solo shot off like a rocket.
The band has nothing new, amazingly enough, since the last time it was here in 2003, so it favored its popular first three albums, with a few nods to 1994's "Walk On" and not a note from 2002's forgettable "Corporate America."
Boston probably could have played its 1976 debut straight through, plus a couple of other hits, and still sent the fans home thrilled. It played six of the eight songs from the album -- leaving off "Hitch a Ride" and "Let Me Take You Home Tonight" -- including signature hit "More Than a Feeling," which was paired with "The Launch" and extended with a long arpeggiated solo and furious jam.
Mr. DeCarlo and the other three singers soared on the crunchy title track to "Don't Look Back," a continuation of that debut album. "Third Stage" album supplied the sonic rocker "Cool the Engines" and sappy power ballad "Amanda," the band's only No 1 hit. Late in the show, Boston packaged together "My Destination" and "To Be a Man," creating a bathroom break opportunity that was soon interrupted by the heavy Deep Purple-style organ jam on the Victor-sung "Walk On" into the set-closing delirium of prog-rock monster "Foreplay/Long Time."
Right through to the closing "Party," the hardcore Boston fans had to be pinching themselves to see the massive arena band of their youth crammed into such an intimate setting and sounding as forceful as ever. As someone who scribbled "Boston" on my high school notebooks, this was a blast -- sonic and otherwise.
By Scott Mervis