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LA City Beat Review

Roadie #3

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A Hard-and-Sweet Repeat

The Raspberries adeptly revisit their quintessential ’70s power-pop hits


Photo by Kevin Scanlon

Ecstasy: Eric Carmen goes all the way at HOB

In 1972, nothing sounded quite like the Raspberries’ “Go All the Way†and “I Wanna Be With You†when they came roaring out of mono car radios. Of course, it’s now obvious that the Cleveland quartet sounded like a lot of things that came before it, merging the Who’s power chords with the Beach Boys’ sweet melodies and vocal harmonies and delivering it all with a decidedly Beatlesque rhythm and feel. Lead singer Eric Carmen even sounded uncannily like Paul McCartney on those two biggest hits.

These days, if you listen closely enough, you might distinguish that the band’s “Let’s Pretend†is a close relative of Brian Wilson’s “Don’t Worry, Baby.†Or that Wally Bryson’s opening guitar riff on the aforementioned “I Wanna Be With You†is Carole King’s piano riff from “One Fine Day†if it had been played by Pete Townshend. Like all the greatest rock, the Raspberries transformed what already existed into something new and sometimes even better.

At the time, none of that mattered to typical Midwestern teens hearing those songs on 8-track. What mattered was the sound, which was as big and dynamic as some of those early Phil Spector records – orgasmic and full of possibilities, offering up that feeling that life and love and sex were so good that, hell, you could live forever. With time, the Raspberries would become regarded as the quintessential power-pop band – but back then it all posed a dilemma for the group. Too hard for bubblegum but too sweet for hard rock, their music was such that no one (including their own label) was certain whether they belonged in 16 magazine or Rolling Stone.

Three decades after the band’s bitter demise, the original Raspberries have reunited for a handful of shows, finally arriving in L.A. for a much-anticipated House of Blues performance last Friday (October 21). Things got off to a rocky start, due to a career-retrospective film that malfunctioned about halfway through. But the Raspberries grabbed the bull by the horns and delivered two solid hours of delicious sound and fun.

Part of the appeal was certainly the element of surprise. More than 30 years later, these guys haven’t lost a thing in the way of musical chops. Yes, they were augmented by three additional musicians – cleverly named the Overdubs – which meant there were sometimes three, and even four, guitars playing behind those six-part vocal harmonies. (Uncle Phil would’ve approved.) Nevertheless, the core of the sound came from the four original members. Bryson was incredible on his solos. Bassist Dave Smalley offered up several of the band’s more obscure tunes, featuring a country-rock vibe that might make the Eagles green. Drummer Jim Bonfanti demonstrated that he should’ve been Keith Moon’s replacement in the Who – he’s that good. And Carmen could still hit most of those high, extremely difficult notes.

I generally hate when critics review what a band didn’t do, but the absence of “It’s Cold Outside†(a classic track by the Choir, a Cleveland band featuring Bryson, Smalley, and Bonfanti) was extremely disappointing, especially since it’s been performed during most of the other stops. It was also a letdown that, unlike other nights, the band played only two covers – the Who’s “I Can’t Explain†(the song Townshend was addressing when he coined the term “power-popâ€) and a brilliantly dramatic version of the Searchers’ “Needles and Pins.â€

Thus the show was not, as Rodney Bingenheimer might say, total godhead. But when it was good (which was most of the time), it was damn terrific. And during tunes like the opening “I Wanna Be With You,†“Overnight Sensation (Hit Record),†“Ecstasy,†“Tonight,†and the closing “Go All the Way,†I was suddenly a 16-year-old high school junior in love with Pam Bucholz all over again. When Carmen sat down behind the piano to deliver a transplendid “Do You Remember,†with all its musical and emotional movements and variations intact, it not only transported many of us back to the summer of ’76 – when The Best of the Raspberries was essential listening – but also affirmed that this band could deliver material as sophisticated, ambitious, and “progressive†as Brian Wilson or Ray Davies at their best.


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Eric *has* to love the word "transplendid"! A great review. He was just disappointed because he wanted to hear "It's Cold Outside" and some other covers. He didn't know "the inside story" about how demanding their fans are! smile

What a great review! People are getting it--especially reviewers! It's Raspberries "in the air"! Thanks for the article!

smile --Darlene

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