By Scott Mervis
Even as Tommy DeCarlo was singing "Don't Look Back," that's exactly what Boston was doing.
What else is a '70s band to do?
The group could have gone heavy on the latest album, its first in 11 years, but that would have been the quickest way to lose the crowd Tuesday night at Stage AE. Boston offered the title track from "Life, Love and Hope" and the instrumental "Last Day of School" in a crowd-pleasing set that clung to the classic material.
And can they ever play it. Under the helm of production/guitar whiz and noted perfectionist Tom Scholz, Boston reproduces its challenging studio material to the note. That requires a good deal of jaw-dropping synchronized guitar work between Mr. Scholz and Gary Pihl, who joined Boston in the mid-'80s after having worked with Sammy Hagar.
Unlike some of its peers, there's nothing about Boston that screams "embarrassing nostalgia act." Yes, some of the lyrics are a tad trite (that was never Boston's strength), but the sonic qualities and harmonies have aged well, and the general vibe of the band is basically to get down to business, with a smile.
That starts with Mr. Scholz and extends to singer Mr. DeCarlo, who came to the band fresh out of Home Depot sounding supernaturally like the late Brad Delp. He knows his place, which is to front the band without acting like he owns it or pandering to the fans.
The eye candy was a video backdrop built like the bridge of a spaceship with the crowd looking out at images of Earth and space, interspersed with close-ups of the band. To the left was Mr. Scholz's impressive control panel. The soundman had his own control panel and he should have used it to crank everything to 11 because 10 didn't seem to cut it.
Boston wasn't the hit machine of a Styx, Journey or Foreigner, partly because of the interminable gaps between albums. It has plenty though for a solid set list of classic rock staples, with opener "Rock & Roll Band," "Peace of Mind," "More than a Feeling," "Don't Look Back," etc., some of them extended with jams. On the lesser tier would be the likes of "Amanda," "Cool the Engines" and "Surrender to Me," sung by multi-instrumentalist Kimberley Dahme.
A late-set surprise was the appearance of Siobhan Magnus, niece of bassist Tracy Ferrie and one of the most underrated of the "American Idol" alums. Her high-pitched screams on "Walk On" shot it to another level of hyperspace.
Before ending on a lighter note with "Party," Boston climaxed the set in full-on prog mode with Mr. Scholz -- wearing a skull-and-crossbones T-shirt, camo shorts and knee brace -- at the organ for a magnificently reproduced "Foreplay/Long Time." It was hardcore-fan high-five material.
The Reb Beach Project opened the show with the Pittsburgh guitar hero representing his Winger/Dokken/Whitesnake days with singer Jon Belan, drummer Dave Throckmorton and bassist Tommy Bellin ably assisting him on songs like "Tooth and Nail" and "Seventeen," along with covers of "Dixie Chicken" and "Higher Ground."