Story by Scott A. Smith
File photo by Scott A. Smith
It was either a belated Christmas present or a jump-start gift for New Year’s Eve, and it was 90 minutes of musical magic from Bad Company.
Comprised of original members Paul Rodgers (vocals, piano) and Simon Kirke (drums, vocals) along with long-time colleagues Howard Leese (guitar) and Todd Ronning (bass), the should-be-in-the-Rock-Hall-of-Fame band performed a joyful, most blistering concert Dec. 28 at Paradise Cove inside the River Spirit Casino in Tulsa, Okla. The set was heavy on radio hits and well-treasured album cuts, and the 21-and-older, near-capacity audience was A-OK with the band’s decision to focus on well-known material.
Leaping out of the starting gate was “Can’t Get Enough,” the kick-off track from Bad Company’s eponymously named debut album from 1974. Despite Rodgers’ always-golden vocals being slightly buried in the mix during the first few minutes of the gig, the quartet sounded and looked great. Rodgers’ voice had as much or more energy and character than it did on many of Bad Company’s original studio recordings, balancing perfectly between a gritty texture and crystal-clear sonics.
Every bit as impressive was Kirke, whose assertiveness on the drums never dipped. Kirke’s strikes give his drum heads, cymbals and high-hat a workout at every gig, and the Tulsa show was no exception. Much of Kirke’s drum work negated the need for a fifth band member on the stage. The drum sound on AC/DC’s original studio version of “Highway to Hell” might contain the best studio-based drum sound to date, but Kirke’s live drumming was aural bliss that most likely can’t be matched.
And it’s easy to see why Leese and Ronning continue to round out Bad Company’s still-busy lineup. The two played with passion and character on the stage, giving the songs “Run with the Pack,” “Burnin’ Sky,” “Gone Gone Gone,” “Movin’ On,” “Live for the Music” and “Rock ‘N’ Roll Fantasy” added punch.
With its cinematic-like vibe and occasionally eerie sounds, the song “Bad Company” greeted fans at encore time. White-colored fog hovered across the stage as Rodgers, Kirke, Leese and Ronning gave their all on piano, drums, guitar and bass, respectively.
The chilly evening’s biggest surprise came in the form of a beautifully rowdy version of Free’s “All Right Now” during one of Bad Company’s encores. The inclusion of the immaculate 1970 track from Free’s third album, “Fire and Water,” was a downright shock. Rodgers and Kirke both were co-founding members of the pre-Bad Company group Free, yet Bad Company rarely plays any songs from Free; Bad Company did include a live version of the song on Bad Company’s 2002 CD and DVD, “In Concert: Merchants of Cool.”
As “All Right Now” radiated from the stage, Bad Company looked more than happy to dig deep into the upbeat song. Ronning’s brief bass break in mid-song paid respect to the late Andy Fraser, Free’s bassist, and Leese’s flamethrower-esque guitar solo served as a tip of the hat to the late Paul Kossoff, Free’s guitarist. Fraser and Kossoff surely would have been proud. I know the audience certainly felt that way.