By Peter Larsen
Orange County Register
By the end of Boston's return to the Forum in Los Angeles on Tuesday you could see the orange flicker of actual cigarette lighters here and there amid the usual cell phones a-glowing.
Forget the drummers – Boston and opening act Cheap Trick each gave their bass players spotlight turns in which to solo during their respective sets.
And you knew Boston still would have that spaceship window deal on the video screens, plus they also brought along a massive gong because, you know, it's cool to bash on that thing a few times every night.
The Forum reopened this year all shiny and new again but the landing of Boston and Cheap Trick turned all the clocks back to the '70s, the decade in which these now-classic acts first headlined the landmark L.A. arena.
So yes, we'll tease both bands a bit about some of their flourishes, but the fact remains that there's something honest and pure – and just plain fun – about the kind of rock ‘n roll both of these bands still quite sharply play.
Boston opened its headlining set with an obvious choice, "Rock & Roll Band," with it's opening line – "We were just another band out of Boston" – serving to reintroduce founder Tom Scholz, the only original member left, and the rest of the current lineup.
Original singer Brad Delp, whose strong, high vocals gave the band's early records a distinct identity beyond Scholz' layered guitar sound, died in 2007, and you wondered how his replacement, Tommy DeCarlo, a fan plucked from a North Carolina Home Depot after Scholz heard his Boston cover versions on MySpace, would stand in comparison.
Turns out DeCarlo does just fine for the most part, his voice sounding positively Delp-ian on early highlights of the night including "Smokin'" and "Peace of Mind." (He also gets to play what we're going to call the B.A.G. – Big (expletive) Gong, which seemed to have its own roadie standing by to take the mallet from DeCarlo when he was done bashing with it.)
On the band's website, fans are urged to "come hear the classic Boston sound live ... it's just like the record!" and while that might sap some of the spontaneity from the show, it's a promise that Scholz and company keep. Long known for its perfectionist ways, the band, which includes longtime guitarist Greg Pihl, drummer Curly Smith, bass player Tracy Ferrie and guitarist Kimberley Dahme is extremely sharp on stage.
They also seem like unpretentious folks. Scholz looks like he's ready to shoot hoops. DeCarlo's practically dressed for work at Home Depot but for missing his orange vest. And it's also kind of a regular-guy thing to let the bass player's niece, Siobhan Magnus, a Top 10 finalist on "American Idol" a few years ago, join the band every night to sing "Walk On." Is it necessary to have her out there? No, not at all. But it's sweet, I suppose.
The end of the set lagged a bit for all the instrumental breakdowns and solos that slowed the pace between hits like "More Than a Feeling" – which showed DeCarlo not quite able to get all the way up to Delp's ridiculous heights, though he acquitted himself quite well – and "Long Time," which closed out the main set. Then again, noodling jams, even as precisely played as Boston's helped give this that '70s show vibe.
Where Boston was crisp and in control in its performance, opening act Cheap Trick was gloriously ragged at times, roaring at breakneck speed through a little over an hour of its best-known songs.
With "Hello There" and "Goodnight" serving as the usual opening and closing bookends to the band's set, lead singer Robin Zander sounded terrific throughout the night on early-set songs such as the band's power pop take on the Move's "California Man" and his positively operatic intro to "Stop this Game."
Guitarist Rick Nielsen riffed and soloed to the edge of spinning out of control, while bass player Tom Petersson and drummer Daxx Nielson, Rick's son and the replacement for drummer Bun E. Carlos, the only original member missing, anchored it all.
That frantic hard rock blended with the melodic quality of many of their songs is what makes Cheap Trick such a lasting and influential band, and the final run of songs in the main set, from "If You Want My Love" into "I Want You to Want Me" and finally "Dream Police" were a thrill.
The encore's inclusion of "Surrender," my all-time favorite Cheap Trick song most days, sealed the deal. If I'd had a lighter in my pocket I'd have absolutely singed my fingers to show my respect.