Photos & Story by Scott A. Smith
Whoa, Boston just took me back – really far back – in time.
Led by founding guitarist/keyboardist/songwriter/producer Tom Scholz, the six-piece rock band allowed myself and several thousand other music addicts to hitch a ride to our youth via a sell-out concert Aug. 15 at the Walmart Amp in Rogers, Ark. An array of Boston’s still-favored FM radio hits and newer material seamlessly merged with the evening’s slight breeze to cover the multi-generational crowd.
Sounding inspired and including lead singer Tommy DeCarlo, guitarist Gary Pihl, drummer Curly Smith, guitarist Kimberley Dahme and bassist Tracy Ferrie, Boston first hopped to the stage at 8:20 p.m. following an impressive, half-hour opening set by Arkansas blues-rockers Oreo Blue. Boston’s air-tight sound was appropriately loud and remarkably clear – the guitar solos and in-the-pocket harmony patterns of Scholz and Pihl cut through the mix with ease without ever drowning out the efforts of their compatriots.
Surprisingly, “More Than a Feeling,” possibly Boston’s best-loved cut, came about three-fourths in the set, rather than as an encore. The song’s immortal electric guitar riff bounced out of Scholz’s Les Paul, magically sounding exactly as it does on the original studio version. Even the classic rock-hating Kurt Cobain must have dug “More Than a Feeling,” since Nirvana’s grunge anthem, “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” is built upon a warped version of Scholz’s four-chord pattern and rhythm strokes.
Another of Boston’s famous guitar part, the driving, acoustic break during “Foreplay/Long Time,” also won cheers from newbies and those wearing Boston tour shirts from the ’90s. For the song, Scholz bounced between guitar and a dry ice-spewing Hammond organ, ensuring the number maintained its terrific, 1972 Deep Purple-meets-1972 Yes flavor.
Also making the well-paced set were “Rock and Roll Band,” “Feelin’ Satisfied,” “Don’t Look Back,” “Cool the Engines” and “Peace of Mind,” as well as a sprawling run-through of the title track from Boston’s “Walk On” LP. “American Idol” semi-finalist Siobhan Magnus acted as guest vocalist on the latter track, adding her aggressive-style which wasn’t quite the jaw-dropping sound heard from DeCarlo’s more melodic pipes.
Scholz, like Pete Townshend did with kid brother Simon Townshend on The Who’s most recent tour, embraced a team-player mentality by surrendering several guitar solos on the stage. Scholz occasionally had the perpetually smiling Pihl take the lead breaks, and often the six-stringed duo would play leads in two-part harmony a la Thin Lizzy and Judas Priest, giving Boston that crucial one-two punch as instrumental technicians.
It wasn’t shocking that Boston sounded great in Rogers. Scholz is known for his perfectionism both inside the studio walls and on the concert stage. What was a harmless blind-sided moment was how the opening six-string chords of “Amanda” quickly brought back that pre-Internet, mostly pre-terrorism year of 1986, the year “Amanda” and its parent album, the long-awaited “Third Stage,” first appeared on store shelves and radio playlists.
Yes, Boston’s original lead singer, vocal master Brad Delp, sadly has been gone since his tragic suicide since 2007 and he definitely is missed, but DeCarlo, inside the Walmart AMP, made “Amanda” his own. Power-ballad jokes be banished, Boston’s rendition summoned a drug-free flashback of me hearing “Amanda” for the first time ever, packed with my rock band and four other close friends in a boat-sized car parked in our high school parking lot, back in 1986. Hovering around that silver-colored radio in our breathless, acne-filled state (and probably missing math class), we hung on every lyric, every chord, every drum strike. “The guitar is a little loud in the mix,” quipped our guitar player. “No, no it’s not,” answered four of us in unison. “Who cares, this is Boston’s first new music in, like, eight years,” added one of us. “Dude, turn it up.”
Wow, 1986, was it really almost 30 years ago when we last met? Note to Boston: Thanks for the wonderful memories, and please come back and see us in person again someday soon.