Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Raspberries - Pop Art Live (2017, Omnivore) - A brief overview.

It was touted as a reunion that was likely to never happen, but occasionally hell apparently does indeed freeze over every now and then.  November 26, 2004, The House of Blues in Cleveland, OH.  That was the date and locale for the reunion of one of the foremost prototypical power pop conglomerations ever to grace a stage.  The Raspberries.  I'm not sure what accounted for the avoidance of a Raspberries pre-20004 was all about.  Perhaps it was rooted in inter-band conflicts, disinterest in the four gentleman involved, or merely the passage of three decades, and the gradual eroding of relevance an epoch like that can levy.  Thing is, to fans of the Raspberries the band in question never became irrelevant.  Despite the indifference of radio (save for two or three signature songs), the intermittent availability of the quartet's complete catalog (even on their own home turf) or the gradually diminishing profiles of it's alumni, the Raspberries were one of the go-to bands that turn-of-the-millenium adopters of power pop gravitated to after having their minds blown from their posthumous discovery of the first two Big Star albums.  Not that the 'berries were the obvious intersecting link between Big Star, and say, The Posies, but you get the idea.  By the way, if you're going to plunder inspiration from a trifecta of outfits whose monikers start with a "B" (Beatles, Bafinger, and the Beach Boys) you better make them count.  Crica 1970-75, The Raspberries certainly did.

So low and behold. it happened.  A Black Friday evening in the so-called Mistake on the Lake saw Eric Carmen, Wally Bryson, David Smalley and Jim Bonfanti gracing the big HOB stage to deliver a two-hour, early Christmas gift to a sold out and anxious audience.   On that night, even if the Raspberries decided to pull the plug after ten or eleven songs the crowd would have gotten their money's worth.  Or let's say, the four men in question were a bit rusty and worse for the wear.  I bet that would've been A-ok for most attendees.  And for a final hypothetical, imagine if the group merely ran through their setlist with nary an anecdote or thoughtful gesture to impart on the audience.  I'm 99.99% certain their constituency that night would've gladly let it fly.

But imagine if none of those pessimistic scenarios came to pass.  As miraculous as it sounds that's exactly the way things went down, and a double CD live document of the gig is captured marvelously on Pop Art Live.  Imagine if you will a dream setlist featuring not only every key Raspberries tune (including but not limited to "Overnight Sensation," "I Wanna Be With You," 'Play On," and "Let's Go all the Way") but a teaming slew of deeper cuts from all four albums.  There's no less than half a dozen "fits-right-in" covers on top of that, including the fab four's "Baby's in Black," "Ticket to Ride" "No Reply," The Who's reliable "I Can't Explain" and two songs from The Choir, a Raspberries precursor outfit who penned the oft-covered "Cold Outside."

Performance-wise you couldn't hope to encounter a band that was tighter and more on-point than this one, with all four guys sounding more aligned and at the peak of their game than perhaps even the Raspberries heyday.  And dig the harmonies, from gentleman who were doing this in their fifties at time of this recording!  An inexplicable phenomenon, but if you want the proof it was all captured on tape.  Finally, there's a bit of a Storytellers thing evidencing itself on more than a few songs, with Eric and Wally sharing the lion's share of the observations.

Technically, the Cleveland House of Blues show wasn't exactly a one-time event (select shows in other mondo American markets followed) but it was so thorough and definitive, laced with such impeccable, par excellence quality control it would have made for one of the greatest one-off reunion performances ever.  That being said, if you missed it, you missed it - but luckily all 28 magic moments that transpired on that stage are now available to experience in a more petite medium, literally at the press of a button.  Pop Art Live can be had straight from Omnivore Records, Amazon, iTunes, and hopefully a local music vendor near you. 

2 comments:

Shriner said...

I listened to this over the weekend. It was great!

The extra 30 minutes over the "Sunset Strip" set are worth it!

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