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If You Believe In What We're Doing Is Right...


pierson

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I just wrote this and I really haven't proof-read it thoroughly, but this will be my live review for my magazine (Yeah Yeah Yeah) which will be coming out in early 2005... Lotsa thanks to Ken Sharp for helping me meet the band... and to Bernie for relighting the flame... and to the band for being such cool guys to meet and Eric Carmen for being the greatest power pop singer of all time...

-Pat Pierson

"If you believe in what we're doing is right, close your eyes and be still…"

-Eric Carmen ("I Wanna Be With You")

Friday, November 26th, 2004: 9pm

Cleveland, Ohio

With the rise of the curtain (after the beautifully heartfelt short intro film) it all came alive…

There is something so specific about the Raspberries' music and Friday night's performance that makes it impossible to "compare" it to anything else. Unless you have an experience of another artist who is in their own "universe." The elements that made the night so incredibly intense will never converge again. That's why I drove 500 miles to bear witness.

Beyond my personal desire to see the original line up reunite and play a set of music was the legacy. The storied drama and classic "Almost Famous"-like tale of local boys done good. But we all know what happened. We all know the break down. Fame was SO fleeting. Two boys from the Choir left amidst the breaking of friendships and musical bonds less than 18 months after they cracked the top 5 with "Go All The Way." It was the usual cracks due to "star-making" machinery and the popular song; and because they were young.

Eric and Wally "prevailed" for another year (with a great upstart Scott McCarl on bass and Michael McBride on drums) and a classic final album, but everything fizzled out with far too much friction between the "old comrades" and a lack of public interest. Wally never regained such rock and roll prowess despite respective attempts with Fotomaker and Tattoo. Eric Carmen got a career in pop music, but lost "the band."

Cynics come and cynics go. Fans (myself included) can get misty eyed and myopic. Brass tacks: Who the F*ck knew?! 1999 almost happened. Eric bought a Rickenbacker guitar, learned a Beatles cover or two and was "ready." But old tensions brewed and killed it. Those who saw Eric sing "Go All The Way" with Ringo's All-Star Band maybe thought it was plausible. To me, that sounded like fun, but was more part of a tourist attraction, and something of an enjoyable ride with a Beatle. It wasn't "Looking For The Magic."

"Because a photograph is like an hourglass out of time…" -Dwight Twilley ("Looking For The Magic")

We can't bring Phil Seymour (Dwight Twilley's better half) back from the grave. That's the hourglass out of time. I have photographs of George Harrison and John Lennon. I won't be able to see them reunite with Paul and Ringo. Deep down, Eric Carmen knew (KNOWS) why his band is so special. Deeper down is something you or I can't get at: The roots. That's mysticism and the power of coming age in the years of Beatlemania. These are words. They lived it. Eric, Jim, Dave and Wally drank from the cup. They (The Choir and Cyrus Erie) made sure they got the gig opening for The Yardbirds and The Who. Wally made sure he asked Pete Townsend, "how do you play 'Substitute'?" They even lent the F*CKING Who their equipment?!!! That's beyond devotion. That's pure LOVE.

"But if I had my time again, you all know just what I'd do…"

-Ian Hunter ("Ballad Of Mott [26th March 1972 Zurich])

So what happened???

I don't know much beyond the fact that everyone ironed out their differences to reclaim the glory. And reclaim it they did. We've heard a lot about "bands" reuniting lately, and many, like The Stooges, Roxy Music, and New York Dolls were pretty incredible, but none of those reunions packed the same punch as this one did. With Iggy, you know he's been tearing it up most of his career in similar fashion to his birth with The Stooges. Was the reunion cool? Of course, but it wasn't a big surprise. Roxy was sweet but without Brian Eno, it can't hold up to the standards we're looking for. New York Dolls?? See: The Beatles. The only reunion I can draw a close parallel to is the Sex Pistols, but even that one bore mixed results (Johnny Rotten singing the songs drastically different and the band being hit or miss.) …And (my personal favorite band) Big Star sucked.

"Used feel so f*cking optimistic…"

-Eric Carmen ("Starting Over")

The optimism is here again. This was the greatest reunion concert I've ever seen. And I wasn't so sure of that from the get go. Things started off well and strong with "I Wanna Be With You" and a sharp cover of The Who's "Can't Explain" but the power had yet to really rise to its optimum level. They made good with Smalley's "Makin' It Easy" and then gave everyone the first BIG surprise of the night with Eric singing "Play On" as a dedication to the band's second bassist, Scott McCarl. It was spot-on. Still, they had yet to conquer. Solid, mind you, but not transcendent. The next four songs were nice mid-tempo fare: a cover of The Beatles' "Baby's In Black," a nice take of "Nobody Knows," "Should I Wait" (Dave Smalley's best song) and "If You Change Your Mind" which sounded great, despite Eric's mis-step with the lyrics. It's been a while since he sang these songs, kids. Wally finally entered the program with "Come Around And See Me." Like Eric and Dave, Wally's voice had not lost any of its clarity or tone. These guys sounded like no time had passed. Another Beatles tune ("No Reply") followed. They can sing the pants off these Beatles songs. Nice.

Sea Change: It was slight but pronounced. "I Saw The Light." This was where they began to shine. It was better than the record and much more like a fleshed out version of the demo which had a gorgeous Left Banke feel to it and lush harmonies. Incredible. From there they rode well doing more spot-on album cuts ("Might As Well," "It Seemed So Easy," and "Last Dance") aptly proving they were never just a studio band.

"We must be in heaven, man…"

The latter part of the set is where everything took on grand dimensions. It's also where they really stacked the deck in their favor. It was a pay-off unparalleled.

It began with "Let's Pretend." Sung not nearly as high, but as powerful as the original. Carmen proving he was in a zone and capable of blowing the doors off of anyone. This is where it was becoming very exciting. One last Beatles cover came: a fond take of "Ticket To Ride."

The next two songs were from The Choir. The first was a drop-dead gorgeous pop song ("When You Were With Me") sung by Wally which had his wife and daughter (up in the balcony) in tears. One look at them in that moment had everything welling up. I had to look away. Next was the "big local hit," ("It's Cold Outside") sung by Smalley. Beautiful. Now it was time to show off.

We all knew the big hits were still to come. That was the "sick" anticipation. BUT, who knew that "I Can Remember" would be the tune to take this night to heights unforeseen? Well, that's what f*cking happened. Talk about unable to breathe. This was spectacle. This was pop and rock merged to its finest distillation. And unlike the album, it didn't come across as a "stretch." It was fleshed out in a way that brought it new legs. The performance was sheer magic proving how incredible Wally and Jim are. This was the moment to die for.

"Starting Over" followed and was fine. The next big moment was "Don't Want To Say Goodbye" which perfectly captured the spirit of '72 and gave Wally and Eric the classic duel-vocal spotlight. Unlike anything else this night. Another sign of classic pop dimensions and their insane ability to pull it off live. Wally's natch hard rock gem, "Party's Over" followed proving the band had balls.

Endgame:

"Overnight Sensation" was performed live with Jim Bonfanti and Dave Smalley for the first time ever and it was beyond amazing with Bonfanti pulling it off with ease and his own stamp and Smalley doing the low-bass background vocals. They kicked it old school and it was truly mind-blowing. "Tonight" was nuts. Yes, they rocked as hard as The Faces. And, yes, Eric Carmen was god at this point, singing with some unleashed force that blew all of us away. "Hard To Get Over A Heartbreak" followed. A bit off, despite it being Dave's most Raspberries-friendly song. "Ecstasy" was the set closer and just reinforced the fact that this was the true essence of power pop. Music as an orgasmic release. Definitely.

Encore:

Despite my reservations for "I'm A Rocker" it worked. (I always felt it was a bit forced and something close to an attempt to reach the audience who didn't take them seriously. "All Through The Night" was always more convincing.) This was Eric's greatest vocal performance of the night. It was just absolutely ripping.

And they closed the night with "Go All The Way." And I'm in heaven. And they're gods. And The Raspberries hung around so that afterwards we could meet them and gush about how f*cking incredible they were. And get our pictures taken with them. Pinch me.

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