By Wendy Rhodes
Broward Palm Beach Times

Next time you're at Home Depot, pay close attention to the guy with the shaggy hair in the orange apron. He's probably never been in a band before, but he just might be on his way to becoming the lead singer of one of the biggest classic rock bands in the world.

So it was with Tommy DeCarlo, whose Myspace videos landed him onstage Friday night at Hard Rock Live, singing to a sold-out crowd of 5,500 on the first night of Boston's 40th Anniversary Tour.

From the opening licks of "Rock & Roll Band," it was a night of heart-pounding rock the way it was meant to be -- raw, powerful, and with endless guitar solos delivered in the pure analog splendor that makes Boston one of the most enduring live acts on the planet.

"Hello, South Florida! Welcome to Boston!" Tom Scholz laughed, ripping into a scorching rendition of the "Star-Spangled Banner" from their Greatest Hits album.

Reminding fans why they can still pack arenas 40 years after Scholz recorded their 17-time platinum debut album Boston in his basement studio, the '70s sensation rocked hit after hit for two solid hours to a packed house of diehard fans and an untold number of Amandas and Hollyanns.

Fans were transported to outer space from inside the cockpit of Boston's famed signature spaceship on three enormous screens. Bursting through meteors and winding through wormholes amid a spectacular laser light show, Boston pounded out classics like "Smokin'," "Feelin' Satisfied," "Peace of Mind," and "We're Ready."

Fort Lauderdale's own Beth Cohen contributed a soulful lead-in to "Cool the Engines," while Scholz and guitarist Gary Pihl finessed their way through the intricate, creamy guitar licks that have given Boston its reputation as a musicians' band.

It's hard to imagine how a live performance could mimic the technical perfection that the recordings notoriously took years to create, but they pulled it off.

"We have six exceptional musicians that are actually capable of capturing those performances live onstage," said Scholz, the sole original member of the band. "And of course, I'm always there playing the key parts that I've done in the studio."

For some fans, no one can ever replace original lead singer Brad Delp, who committed suicide in 2007, but DeCarlo won over many with some amazing chops on "Don't Look Back." He was supported throughout the evening by four-part harmonies.

"Every one of them is a lead singer in their own right," Scholz told New Times of his bandmates in a previous interview. "You combine that with some excellent musicianship and a really good work ethic and it's amazing what you can accomplish onstage."

With Scholz zipping back and forth between keyboard and guitar, Cohen switching from keyboards to guitar to lead vocals, Curly Smith popping out from behind his drum set for an insane harmonica solo, and Tracy Ferrie laying down some heavy bass tracks, it was difficult to keep track of who was doing what.

A barrage of hits gave way to an intricate and flawless guitar solo by Scholz, eventually leading into the rock anthem "More Than a Feeling." From the first familiar keyboard notes to the heart-pounding percussion, gentle chords were followed by mammoth crescendos powerful enough to have the entire venue on its feet, collectively transporting older fans back to bell bottoms and younger fans back to "Guitar Hero."

Cohen impressed with lead vocals on "Walk On," and then DeCarlo brought it home with "Long Time," which began with the deep, rich sound of a massive church organ, leading into sizzling guitar courtesy of Scholz and Pihl, who Scholz teasingly thanked for "playing the hard parts."

A two-song encore wrapped up the night with "Party," and while no one was ready to leave, fans got what the song promises -- a party, party, party.