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Another +++ Review

Roadie #3

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Here ya go


The Raspberries

October 21, 2005

House of Blues, Los Angeles, CA

By Dan Wall

Set List: I Wanna Be With You, I Can’t Explain, Play On, Tonight, Should I Wait, Nobody Knows, Making It Easy, Come Around and See Me, If You Change Your Mind, It Seemed So Easy, Let’s Pretend, Last Dance, Needles and Pins, I Can Remember, The Party’s Over, Don’t Want to Say Goodbye, Overnight Sensation, Hard to Get Over a Heartbreak, I Don’t Know What I Want, Ecstasy. Encore: I Saw the Light, Starting Over, I’m a Rocker, Go All the Way. 2 hours.

It was another magical night of music for classic rock fans in Los Angeles as America’s greatest power pop band, the Raspberries, returned to California for the first time in 32 years last Friday at the House of Blues on the Sunset Strip.

Of all of the bands that I never thought would get back together, the Raspberries were right at the top of the list (gosh, last year the New York Dolls, this year the Raspberries). For years, there were rumors that the band would reunite, but the dream that the band’s fans held onto didn’t materialize until the new House of Blues in Cleveland (the group’s hometown) damn near demanded an appearance when it opened last November. That show went down so well that the group made the reformation permanent and added more dates, including this historic return to the Left Coast.

This is the real thing, folks. The classic line-up of Eric Carmen (guitar, piano, vocals), Wally Bryson (guitar, vocals), Dave Smalley (bass, vocals) and Jim Bonfanti (drums) is back together for the first time since 1973, when Smalley and Bonfanti left the group after the making of the band’s third record, Side 3. Never a huge draw on the West Coast, the group was still able to sell-out this beautiful nightclub, with a collection of friends, longtime fans (like me, who never saw the band in its heyday and traveled down Friday morning from Northern California to see the show) and industry bigwigs who have a history with the band. As a matter of fact, like all of the gigs that have been reported on the band’s website, the group was treated like conquering heroes on its return to L.A. Must have something to do with Jon Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen and members of Motley Crue and Guns N Roses all talking up the band during recent interviews. (Kiss frontman Paul Stanley and Rick Springfield were seen in attendance at the show).

The quartet didn’t disappoint, performing a lengthy set of 22 Raspberry favorites and a couple of well-placed covers. The group sounded magnificent, with able support from three backing musicians known to the group as the Overdubs, who helped re-create the studio magic that made the Raspberries a cult favorite back in the day.

For those of you who only know Raspberries from the jam you spread on your toast every morning, the band combined the jangly guitars and songwriting sensibilities of The Beatles, the breezy melodic tendencies of the Beach Boys, the power chords and drum rolls of the Who and virtually every riff the Small Faces ever wrote (according to Carmen) into a sound that sold millions but never broke the group nationwide.

That might be due to the fact that the record company didn’t support the band, that the group was mis-managed or that the rock star egos got into the way. Whatever the reason, it all came crashing down in 1975, as Carmen explained recently: “the first single from our fourth album, “Overnight Sensation†was picked as the best single of the year by Rolling Stone and the album Starting Over was picked as one of the top seven records of the year, and subsequently we sold fewer records than we had before. We were playing toilets all over the East Coast for no money and beating our brains out every night while driving in a car 500 miles to get to the next show.†It’s hard to believe that a band that had written two of the best singles ever released (Go All the Way†and “Overnight Sensation,â€), had a sting of great records and a potent live act would be treated like this, but there are many stories like this all over the industry, many starting (and ending) just blocks from where this show took place.

Carmen was always the Raspberry, a great singer and musician who simply had a knack for writing catchy tunes. It’s no secret that the band’s absolute classic tunes (“Go All the Way,†“I Wanna Be With You,†“Let’s Pretend,†“Tonight,†“Ecstasy,†“Overnight Sensationâ€) were written and sung by Carmen. The 56-year old is a great singer (although he does struggle at times now to reach the high notes), band leader and musician, and it’s not hard to figure out why he had the most successful career once the band broke up (he had big solo hits with “All By Myself†and tunes such as “Hungry Eyes†from the Dirty Dancing soundtrack).

Bryson, his partner in crime back in the day, is a solid player who adds harmony vocals to most songs and can play a mean guitar solo when he wants to. He brought out a number of vintage guitars, including the double-neck he played back in the 70’s, to help re-create the guitar sound that sounded so good on the radio back then. Bryson is the one Raspberry who has really changed over the years, trading in his shaggy locks for long, gray hair, all the while retaining his legendary sense of humor. Smalley and Bonfanti are an excellent rhythm section, with Smalley driving each and every song on bass and Bonfanti adding the trademark rolls the band was so well known for (think Keith Moon without the manic behavior). Smalley can also sing a bit, as he and Bryson gave Carmen a break from the marathon set with a couple of well-received vocals.

The set played here was similar to those performed over the past year on the road, with a couple of exceptions. This time out, the band added two gems, “I Saw the Light†and “Starting Over,†to the encore, much to the chagrin of the band’s fans who have seen the show previously (on message boards, these were often the most requested songs that the band didn’t play, so maybe all those posts are good for something). “I Can Remember,†the band’s only eight-minute song ever, was included, and the lengthy tune was a highlight. The band did mix up the set list from previous shows, but rocked hard towards the end of the show with “I Don’t Know What I Want,†“Ecstasy†and “I’m a Rocker†rattling the cavernous club with heavy guitar, big drums and the bands’ trademark vocals.

The real highlights for me were those six classics listed above, all sung by Carmen, that brought goosebumps and perhaps a few tears to those in attendance.

The band sounded absolutely fantastic throughout, with the seven musicians onstage effortlessly re-creating the band’s three-and-a-half minute power pop masterpieces. There were often times six vocalists, four guitarists and even a few songs with three keyboards, as the band took meticulous care to make sure it sounded as good as it could on its return to Southern California.

I’d have to say this just might have been the highlight of my year-there were times when I caught myself smiling in wonderment at a site I never though I’d see, at an event I never thought I would attend. Having this band back probably doesn’t mean much to a lot of you, but I was always a big fan and couldn’t believe what I was seeing in good old L.A. Let’s hope the group stays together for a few years, makes one more record, and gets its due as one of the 70’s greatest unfound treasures.

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An excellent overview by Dan. I never knew about some of the things The Raspberries went through, until I read what Eric said. They were definitely overlooked when they could have been promoted much better, because this is what a record company is supposed to do.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Unbelievable review! I always wished I could write a commercial for Entenmann's Cakes. It would say..."STOP EVERYTHING!...THIS COMMERCIAL IS THE ONLY TRUE ONE YOU'LL EVER SEE! THESE CAKES ARE AS GOOD AS WE SAY!" This review IS that commercial."The Raspberries ARE the best Power Pop Band ever and the best concert band you'll ever see.They are Entenmann's Cakes!"--IRA.

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