Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Rick Springfield Rocks Canada!

Rick Springfield
Juice Newton
St. John’s – Oct 14, 2009
Mile One Centre
Review by: Daniel Martin

Whether the dramatic build-up to Rick Springfield’s explosive 90 minute set last night at Mile One Centre was the result of chance or not, it worked perfectly. Minutes before surprising warm-up act Juice Newton & the Regenerators took the stage, a local radio host was up there announcing there was a slight problem. The 2,500 or so in attendance gasped in unison, then uttered a sigh of quasi-relief as the MC advised them not to worry, it was only a minor delay. RickSpringfield had decided that morning to accept an invitation to appear on Oprah – an invitation that, admittedly, no one can decline – and had taken a late flight into the Newfoundland capital. We all knew the weather was too bad for a flight to land at St. John’s airport. So what had happened? Dr. Noah Drake’s flight was re-routed over 3 hours away to Gander. The star of the evening was in a taxi en route to Mile One Centre. We collectively worried about the nasty weather –snow, sleet, high winds – and the ever-present army of moose lurking roadside.

Not to worry we were told, we would be well entertained whilst we waited for the arrival of Rick, torch bearer of the great lost art of the straight-ahead pop rock, that was a force on the charts in the early portion of the 1980’s.

Shortly thereafter, an unrealistically young looking Juice Newton took the stage with her incredibly tight and rock solid, if mainly motionless, band of mostly heavy-set, grey haired dudes. The set opened with a pair of more recent songs that didn’t get the crowd overly enthused but were good nonetheless. Her amazing teal colored DanElectro guitar was eye catching in the early moments. The show really took off minutes later when she performed a 2-ballad medley of “Hurt” and “Break it to Me Gently” that featured shockingly powerful vocals. She still has the voice. The crowd was instantly won over. The momentum waned only slightly over the next 2 or 3 songs but the crowd warmed up to her, thanks in part to her slightly loopy in-between song banter. But at this point one had to wonder if she wouldn’t be better off playing those two big hits everyone came to hear and just getting it over with. Only that’s when she pulled out the unexpected 1-2 punch of “Cheap Love” and “Love’s Been a Little Bit Hard on Me”. Well, well, she DOES have other great songs. A fast-paced block of 5 songs followed and featured more jaw-dropping vocals. She totally had the audience in her back pocket by the time she closed out the opening set with “Angel of the Morning” and an inspired, high-energy version of
“Queen of Hearts”. The crowd was on its feet, their anxiety appeased, perhaps willing to wait a bit longer for the main event of the evening.

The MC came out to inform us that the headliner was on his way, safe, but not yet arrived. We were then treated to a brief set from a local cover band. Their name was Blue Eyed Blonde but on this night they were the Gap Fillers. They did a respectable job but this wasn’t their night and as such, the high point of their set was when they announced, “We’ve just been told we have one more song…you know what that means!” Just over 20 minutes after that, the stage was ready and the house lights went down. But Sir Rick was not done creating tension in the room. We stood through an entire song on the PA system and a brief montage of song clips and sound
effects until HE finally took the stage.

Rick Springfield is exactly 60 years old. This fact alone is astonishing as he first appears before our eyes. They guy looks no older than 38. No hair loss, very few wrinkles, and a slim yet buffer physique than in his early 80’s heyday. He’s been hitting the gym pretty hard and if he’s had any work done on his face, the surgeon did a fantastic job. It looks natural. He easily still fits into his old stage attire and no, he hasn’t changed his wardrobe in the least. Untucked button-up shirt with sleeves ripped off, fitted sleeveless leather vest, fitted black trousers and black shoes. Early 80’s rock dude in the house. But can he still play, sing? 30 seconds into the opening number, a recent track called “Mr. PC”, the answer is a resounding YES. Two things are apparent now: this is one surprisingly great song and man, Rick’s band is unbelievable. Is that Matt Bissonette on bass? Why, yes it is! Rodger Carter on drums? Again, yes! And though I don’t know the guitarist and keyboardist by name, they are equally virtuosic. Springfield is wise to surround himself with such a solid supporting cast. Their awe-inspiring 3-way backing harmonies allow the leading man to shine without blowing out his voice or over-straining. These guys replicate all the backing vocals from the recordings with amazing precision. And their playing is brilliant. This clearly adds to the overall concert experience.

After “What’s Victoria’s Secret?”, another solid selection from his most recent release, comes our way, we expect nothing less than a string of classic cuts. Dr. Drake delivers the goods, as first the instantly recognizable keyboard intro for “Affair of the Heart” booms through the big speakers. Great version. He follows with 82’s “I Get Excited”, introduced with “I bet when this song came out you were all too young to know what it was really about, but now you probably know”. Then ensues the unheralded Sammy Hagar classic to which Springfield gave new life, “I’ve Done Everything For You”, and the room is now ON FIRE. The already breathless crowd is floored by a fourth consecutive smash, “Allyson” from the “Living in Oz” album.

All the songs are delivered with incredible precision from the band and much passion from Springfield. I guess when the tunes are that good you don’t get At this point I’m expecting a break and a few tracks from his newest record, “Venus in Overdrive”. But instead he introduces, “A song written by somebody else, someone we really love.” The band then bursts into a stunningly powerful rendition of the McCartney & Wings classic “Jet”. The lead and back vocals are sickeningly good and the band sounds HUGE.

We are then treated to a pair from the aforementioned new release. He knows that’s not what we’re there for and he acknowledges, “We have a new album and any song we play tonight that you don’t recognize is, well, from that one.” Just before the energy level starts to dip the band breaks into an uber-heavy version of “Love is Alright Tonight”, the opening track from the 1981 classic “Working Class Dog”. The roof almost blows off the arena and it is unclear whether it’s the tornado-level winds outside or this 5-man rock machine on stage The evening wouldn’t be complete without a healthy dose of gourmet cheese and Springfield delivers as he sits on the edge of the stage, surrounded by screaming ladies, pounding out a bluesy solo with, at times, impressive fretboard dexterity (you mean to tell me he looks that good, can sing really well, write pop rock classics AND shred on guitar?!), followed by a short cover version of Crossroads”. Does Clapton do this song? I bet Springfield’s guitar playing is better. It’s less boring for sure. The bluesy interlude is thankfully short-lived. However, at this point all in attendance have taken such a liking to the ultra charismatic frontman, with his perfect mix of rock god poses and goofball antics on stage, that he can do no wrong. I can walk the walk, talk the talk, but I don’t take myself that seriously.

Witness: At one point, he mentions that it might be cold as hell outdoors, but it’s getting damn hot up onstage. The guitar tech then runs out with a sleeveless t-shirt and Springfield asks the ladies in attendance to close their eyes while he changes. It was just an excuse to reveal a chiseled upper body. Seconds later the black sleeveless T is slipped on and the show rolls on.
Then comes a laid-back version of “Don’t Talk to Strangers”. For this song only, the band shifts into a looser mode, yet they are so good they can toy around with this crowd favorite without diminishing it. This is when the audience-participation portion of the show begins. Rick is down in the crowd trying to coax a 70-year old lady to sing along with him. He says, “This lady is like, who IS THIS GUY? Is that Noah Drake?……..Yes, it is.”

Another massive keyboard intro. It’s the opening notes of “Human Touch”. During the extended version of the ’83 single, he roams through the entire audience, up rows of seats and across the floor on chairs. At one point he passes only a couple of rows up from us and that’s when I get visual confirmation that he is a freak of nature. He looks like a kid, even from real close. After a series of female embraces, he makes his way back to the stage to finish the song and blasts into “Love Somebody”, the last major smash single of his early 80’s chart You can sense that the set is coming to a close and the inevitability of what comes next is palpable. “Is it that time yet?”, he interjects, as he chugs out the opening riff for “Jessie’s Girl”. The crowd is going completely berserk. I liked how tight the song was performed, how faithful it was to the original. The most highly anticipated moment of the evening was delivered with the utmost respect. The band pours every ounce of their high level of skill into these few minutes.

The house lights don’t come back up so we know we’re in for an encore. Dim red lighting covers the stage and ambient sounds emanate from the PA. Rick returns for a so-so rendition of “Wild Thing”. Admittedly not the most inspired choice of covers, but at this point we don’t care, we’ve already gotten our money’s worth and then some. He closes with a monster rendition of “Kristina” from 82’s “Success Hasn’t Spoiled Me Yet”. No, apparently it hasn’t. On this bitterly cold and slushy October night on the East Coast, Springfield and his bandmates delivered in a huge way. They came to rock and we are grateful.

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