December 10, 2004

A NIGHT OF MUSICAL ECSTASY

Raspberries.jpg

Reunited Raspberries sharp during Cleveland gig

The Raspberries
House of Blues -- Cleveland
Nov. 26, 2004

On the surface, The Raspberries seemed one of the least likely candidates for the rock 'n' roll inevitability: the reunion.

The Mentor, Ohio, quartet splintered 30 years ago; the band's descent from the top of the charts was almost as fast as its rise 18 months earlier. But the premier purveyors of power pop had some turf beyond their native Ohio to reclaim.

History hasn't been kind to The Raspberries. Perhaps it's due to a critical backlash against singer-guitarist Eric Carmen and his mushy solo hits, or the lack of a hip band to make them a trendy name-check (a la Big Star) that has pushed them to the edge of obscurity. Nothing from their catalog is in print in the United States -- not even a best-of compilation for an act that had four Top 40 pop hits and released four excellent albums from 1972-74. The Raspberries pretty much invented power pop and saved the three-minute rock song from extinction in the early '70s, when so-called progressive rock had music progressing nowhere, except toward interminable boredom.

So, on the day after Thanksgiving 2004, The Raspberries set out to rectify things. The four original members reconvened for a gig at the request of the management in charge of a new House of Blues venue in Cleveland. The petty jealousies and fights that led to the band's split 30 years ago were put aside. As lead guitarist Wally Bryson put it during rehearsals leading up to the show, "I think we all kind of got the same feeling: 'Let's go and do this before we're freaking 95.' "

And The Raspberries proved to be as fresh as ever. Four guys in their mid-50s were able to deliver teenage anthems about "going all the way, with you tonight." This was no big money-grab of a reunion; this was four friends coming together with a chemistry so fluid and natural it would have been hard to tell they had not shared a stage in 30 years. The atmosphere on and off the stage was as loose as the playing was tight. Friends and relatives who never got to see the band play sang along with the diehards.

An opening video montage of classic footage set the bar high, drawing Beatlemania-like screams from the crowd. As the screen rolled up, they broke into "I Wanna Be With You." The music was frighteningly on. Carmen sounded on as well, but was struggling to keep up the volume. He got stronger as the night rolled on, and by the end of the 2.5-hour, 28-song set, easily nailed (pun intended) the classic "Go All the Way."

Bryson, while doing most of the talking to the crowd, meant business musically -- a visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that afternoon revealed an empty guitar stand in the Ohio music display next to a plaque reading "Flying V Guitar, Wally Bryson of The Raspberries." His vocal turns, notably on "Last Dance," showed him to be in fine form as well.

Songs from all four albums were played, along with a few Beatles covers (including a fun take on "Baby's in Black," with Carmen and Bryson dueting). Bassist Dave Smalley had his turn on his numbers, which leaned into country-rock territory like "Hard to Get Over a Heartbreak" and "Makin' It Easy."

The biggest surprises in the set came with two songs from The Choir, which featured pre-Raspberries Bryson, Smalley and drummer Jim Bonfanti: the Bryson-fronted/composed "When You Were With Me" and Smalley's "It's Cold Outside," which can be found on the Nuggets boxed set.

Three additional singer-players were appropriately dubbed The Overdubs by Carmen. Unlike recent shows by someone like Brian Wilson, where the extras did the bulk of the work, The Overdubs stuck to just that -- the overdubbed vocal and instrumental parts on the records, staying out of the way of the star attractions.

So, the Raspberries are back. They've already announced a second show: New Year's Eve, also at the Cleveland House of Blues, as well as plans for a live DVD combining material from the two shows.

As one local fan put it, as the crush moved its way to the restrooms after the show, "This is like going to a Browns game, only this time we didn't lose."

-- By Joe Belock

Posted by medleyville at December 10, 2004 10:49 PM
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