By Ken Johnson
If you were not in Murphys at the Ironstone Amphiteathre on Saturday, you missed what has to be the rock and roll equivalent to a Bigfoot sighting.
The Boston and REO Speedwagon concert was unbelievably perfect. Having seen Boston in the '80s, I actually was eager to see REO as they, too, were a big part of my blaring-car-radio-fueled youth.
REO was loud and proud and if anyone didn't recognize at least a dozen Top 10 hits from the golden age of arena rock, they just weren't paying attention.
But then the lights came on and crews completely broke down the clean minimalistic stage setup for REO.
A new crew came in to setup Boston's stage rig. When the lights dimmed, the resulting stage looked like what you see when driving west on Highway 4 near the county line at night – dark expanse topped by a thousand shimmering lights.
Being a guitar geek, I love to see what guitars, amplifiers and other instruments bands actually use when playing live. I have no idea what Tom Scholz – the founder and genius behind Boston – had on that stage. It was as if I had entered a huge datacenter in Santa Clara looking at all the blinking lights on top of dozens of speaker cabinets. In the middle was this giant four-tier organ with exhaust pipes on its side.
The funny thing we all do when we go to concerts is mentally measure how live performances compare to the records or the radio. It's not that we only want carbon copies of records performed live, but it must be our own internal "Rain Man" that wants to hear famous songs performed accurately. Each and every Boston song was not only pitch and note perfect to the originals, but all freeform solos were true to the bands incredible sound.
Here's the thing you may not know about live playing. It is extremely difficult to play live and make it sound like the original studio recording. Boston's first mega album from 1976 was recorded by Scholz in a basement studio, and this first record was no ordinary studio recording. To take these Boston songs, akin to the most complex Pink Floyd or Beatles studio recordings and play them live accurately is mind boggling.
For us guitarists, hearing great players like Scholz and fellow band mate Gary Pihl play the complex harmonized guitar parts is a real trip. In the original recordings, Scholz played all the double and triple leads himself, so again, getting it to sound like the studio album live is immensely complex. They played wave after wave of double leads flawlessly, a jaw dropping feat, and made it look easy to boot.
The current lead singer of Boston is an example of real life imitating art. If you ever saw the 2001 film "Rock Star" with Mark Wahlberg, in which a tribute band singer ascends to the real life job with his favorite band, that same scenario happened for Boston. The original lead singer Brad Delp, died in 2007.
Meet Tommy DeCarlo, who was a fellow working at Home Depot in North Carolina and was a school choir singer with a similar vocal range Delp. He was convinced by friends to learn to sing Boston songs and submitted a MySpace video in 2007 to be a tribute band singer covering Boston songs. Tom Scholz's wife Kim somehow heard his tribute versions after Delp's death and invited DeCarlo to try out for the band. A few months later he was singing in front of thousands at the B of A Pavilion in Boston. He is an incredibly talented singer and nails the Boston sound perfectly.
Then there is Tom Scholz. He was an on-and-off classical pianist who went to MIT to study electrical engineering. He heard the Kinks' "All Day and all of the Night" and caught the rock guitar bug to get that raw rock guitar tone that would be the core of the Boston sound. He went to work at Polaroid as a design engineer and worked off hours building a recording studio in his apartment basement. When he submitted songs to try to get signed, only Epic records would agree to let him record it in his amateur basement studio. That's what we all heard in 1976 on that platinum debut album and again so perfectly performed Saturday at Ironstone.
What a concert. My wife and I have gone to probably 200 concerts in our days, and this was one that stood out as one of the best. Thanks to Ironstone for stepping up to bring in this mega band to our little corner of the world.