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Resurgent Raspberries on a roll-review

Lew Bundles

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Resurgent Raspberries on a roll with live CD/DVD and homecoming concert

Dec. 12, 2007

By John Soeder, The Plain Dealer

"I think the band really is playing better now than it ever did in our heyday," says Eric Carmen, left, of the Raspberries, seen here with Wally Bryson during a November 2004 gig at House of Blues. 

The Raspberries are on a roll. In the past few months alone, the resurgent power-pop quartet from Cleveland saw the release of its first live CD/DVD set, "Live on Sunset Strip," performed in Los Angeles and New York City and received sweet write-ups in Rolling Stone and USA Today.

"I think the band really is playing better now than it ever did in our heyday," said singer-guitarist Eric Carmen. The group also features Wally Bryson on guitar, Dave Smalley on bass and Jim Bonfanti on drums.

They'll headline a homecoming concert Friday night at Playhouse Square's State Theatre.

"It's more satisfying now to go onstage and play with these guys than it ever was," Carmen said. "It's also nice that after 30 some years, we finally seem to be eliciting the respect of the media and people who maybe the first time around didn't quite get it."

Formed in 1970, the Raspberries made four albums for Capitol Records. They had four Top 40 singles, including the Top 5 hit "Go All the Way."

The group reunited for a couple of shows in late 2004 at Cleveland's House of Blues, which led to eight dates around the country the following year.

"We still consider ourselves a legitimate rock 'n' roll band," Bonfanti said in a separate interview. "When we come to play, we come to play."

Recorded in 2005 at the House of Blues in Los Angeles, "Live on Sunset Strip" includes liner notes by no less a fan than Bruce Springsteen, who hails the Raspberries as "THE great underrated power pop masters."

In concert, they bring in Jennifer Lee, Paul Sidoti and Billy Sullivan to help with backing vocals and additional musical accompaniment.

Of late, the Raspberries have been working songs from Carmen's solo career into their setlist, too.

The Raspberries ended their first run in 1975, two years after creative differences hastened the departures of Bonfanti and Smalley. Carmen found success on his own, while his ex-bandmates went on to play with various other groups, including the Secret, whose frontman Eric Robertson died last week. A memorial concert is set for Saturday night at the Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland.

Carmen, the Raspberries' chief songwriter, hasn't penned any new tunes specifically for the band yet, although the group hasn't ruled out a new studio album.

"We haven't sat down and said, 'Let's go make a record,' because it's a big commitment of time and effort," Carmen said. "But I certainly wouldn't say that it's out of the question."

They recently visited Grammy-winning producer Mark Linett's studio, where the Raspberries banged out fresh takes of songs by two of their key influences: the Beatles ("No Reply") and the Who ("Substitute").

Carmen, for one, was pleasantly surprised by the results, considering these guys hadn't done a recording session together in nearly 35 years.

"We also did a little bit of work on a third song, which I'll keep quiet for the moment," he said. "There's a possibility that at some point we might offer them as bonus tracks. We might stream them. There are a number of different things we can do with them."

Given the disarray in the music industry, it's not just a matter of going out and trying to get an old-fashioned record deal anymore, Carmen said.

"There has to be a whole new way that people are getting music to the fans, because the big record labels just aren't controlling the game anymore," he said. "The real question mark is, in an industry that is trying to find its way right now . . . who do we talk to?

"The Eagles had to go to Wal-Mart to do this. . . . McCartney was at Starbucks."

Nonetheless, a new studio project could be "fun," Carmen said.

"The attitudes of everybody in the band at this point would be leaning more that . . . than they would've been two years ago," he said. "We've kind of found our way around each other again.

"One of the most interesting things, I think, about this reunion is that you learn to accept everybody as they are, not as you'd like them to be.

"That's probably a huge lesson in life that I've learned."


The Raspberries 
When: 8 p.m. Friday.  
Where: State Theatre, Playhouse Square, Cleveland.  
Tickets: $10-$75 at the box office and Tickets.com outlets, or charge by phone, 1-800-766-6048 or 216-241-6000.

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