Less Than a Feeling?


image courtesy of BandBoston.com
Tom Scholz: image courtesy of BandBoston.com

A flooring contractor. Probably tile specialist. I hear that job is hard on the body. So, had I passed the man in Home Depot, I may have taken him for such a worker, with his knee brace and tennis elbow strap on his forearm – had I even noticed him at all.

His stringy, almost gray shoulder-length hair looked like it hadn’t been combed in a while. Cargo pant shorts and athletic shoes would have only added to my potential stereotyping of him. Perhaps the only slight clue he might not be a worn down laborer was the Massachusetts Institute of Technology shirt – but the cutoff sleeves to make it a tank top would have blown that theory.

The “Star Spangled Banner”

So, no.  I probably would not have really noticed Tom Scholz, founder and creative force behind the band Boston, had I passed him in Home Depot, dressed as he was, without the faintest hint of rock legend.

However, as the man stood in front of thousands of over-the-hill fans in Atlanta last month, the tools he used to please the crowd weren’t trowel and tile saw, but rather a Hammond organ and a mighty Les Paul guitar.

And as he opened the show with an electric guitar rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner”, we did, indeed, take notice (and we all stood, by the way). Welcome to the Boston 40th Anniversary Tour.

Let’s Review

Once upon a time, I wrote a post called The [Insert Band Name] Experience.  In it, I basically questioned whether some of these old bands should still call themselves by their original names, given the lack of original members in them.  Boston and Styx were two bands I specifically mentioned in that post.

See, Boston’s original lead singer died in 2008, and to me, losing a lead singer might ought to be the death knell of using the original band name.  Unless, of course, you hire Sammy Hagar as fill-in extraordinaire. That’s a different story.

Styx was in a similar boat, having lost their main lead singer to a nasty band split. Now, here I was in Atlanta, to hear Boston with its replacement lead singer.  As a bonus, the opening act was Dennis DeYoung, afore mentioned former lead singer of Styx now doing a show billed as Dennis DeYoung – Performing the music of Styx.  Would I have the same opinion after the show? Inquiring minds wanted to know.  Or at least I did, anyway.

Domo Arigato, Mr. DeYoung

Dennis on the keys

First up to the plate was Dennis DeYoung.  For those unfamiliar with Dennis, he is a piano/keyboard player and former co-lead singer of Styx. I used to call him lead singer, but as I researched, turns out Tommy Shaw, lead guitarist for Styx, sang a ton of lead as well.  I even reviewed the set lists from the current Styx tour and they do very few tunes where Dennis sang lead.  That’s too bad for concert go-ers, I suppose, because his replacement actually does an excellent job at both vocals and piano.  They at least do “Come Sail Away” more than respectably.

So, I wondered if Dennis would do any of the Tommy Shaw lead songs.  Turns out the answer is yes.  Funny thing is, the lead guitarist for the band Dennis brought was the spitting image of Tommy – short in stature, long blonde hair and could really shred the guitar.  He also sang the Tommy parts.

My other question was would Dennis do “Mr. Roboto”?  Years ago, I’d been mad at Dennis about the 1983 Styx album, Kilroy Was Here, which spawned the song “Mr. Roboto” and eventually broke up the band when they revolted against wearing ridiculous futuristic costumes Dennis wanted for that tour.  Tommy and crew wanted to be a rock band, not a Broadway show.  Well, as the ’80’s songs turned into golden oldies, I eventually forgave Dennis, but to this date, Tommy has not.  So, when they played “Mr. Roboto”, and Dennis pulled out the Kilroy mask, I smiled and sang along.

I only had two disappointments with the Dennis part of the show.  First, it was too short at about 45 minutes.  He was just getting an energized full house as they ended.  I’m not sure why people pay all that money for a concert and don’t arrive on time.

Second, he didn’t play my all time favorite Styx song, “Rockin’ the Paradise”. Oh well, maybe next time.  At 69 years old, Dennis didn’t appear to be slowing down, and his voice was still excellent. However, he did tell the crowd, “People tell me 69 is the new 40.  And I tell them, ‘Man you must have felt like $**# at 40’.”

Old and New

Tom Scholz on the organ

My only other concert experience this summer was taking my daughter to see one of her favorite bands, Five Seconds of Summer.  I actually enjoyed the music, what little I could hear of it.  Turns out, 15,000 constantly screaming teenage girls is harder on the ears than the amplifiers.  At that concert, I was a geezer.  At the Boston concert, though, I would have been considered a youngster. It was the 40th Anniversary concert after all.

After two hours of nothing but hits (OK, not sure you can count the extended version of “Walk On”, from their little known 4th album), I was convinced Tom Scholz is the man.  I was super impressed with his guitar playing.  I was also impressed with his organ playing, up to a point.  I thought his 15 minute organ solo would have been just fine at about half that.

In the end, I only had one big disappointment with the show.  Tom Scholz told us early on that Tommy DeCarlo (the new lead singer) had a cold.  I figured this meant death for the high note in “More than a Feeling”.  I was right, Tommy couldn’t get there, but the crowd gave it a pretty good shot. I felt they should have let their band mate, Beth Cohen, take the lead on that. She had a great voice.

The Verdict

When I’m tired and thinking cold
I hide in my music, forget the day
And dream of a girl used to know
I closed my eyes and she slipped away
She slipped away

-“More Than a Feeling”, Boston 1976

Dennis did a great job representing the music of Styx.  He couldn’t call himself Styx, but at least he titled his concert correctly. I do think he needs to be back in the band, and I wish he and Tommy Shaw would hug and make up.  I don’t think they should let it end this way.

As far as Boston goes…sure, original lead singer Brad Delp was missed.  His suicide still makes me sad.  But no, this version of Boston wasn’t less than a feeling, just slightly different.  I guess, though, as long as Tom Scholz  can brace himself up and get out on stage where he can let loose on the guitar and organ, there will always be a rock & roll band called Boston.  With that, I have decided to have peace of mind.



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