Friday, July 23, 2010

Bad Company concert review

Bad Company photo, from earlier in the world tour, courtesy of Lippin Group PR. My review originally appeared in the OC Register, which can be viewed here:

While waiting in line Saturday night to watch Bad Company during the 2010 Pacific Amphitheatre Concert Series, one silver-haired gentleman wearing a tie-dyed shirt exclaimed, “I’ve waited 30 years to see this band!”

Surely he meant the latest incarnation — the closest fans can get now to the original.

As with many classic rock acts that came to prominence in the ’70s, you need a scorecard to keep track of all the lineup changes. For Bad Company, the short version goes like this: vocalist Paul Rodgers, guitarist Mick Ralphs, bassist Boz Burrell and drummer Simon Kirke formed in 1973, after noteworthy stints in Free (Rodgers and Kirke), Mott the Hoople (Ralphs) and King Crimson (Burrell). The supergroup, the first act signed to Led Zeppelin’s Swan Song Records, achieved massive success — all but one of its ’70s releases went platinum, the ’74 self-titled debut eventually selling 5 million copies — but it broke up in ’82.

A few years later, Ralphs and Kirke revived the name and steered toward a more pop/rock direction. Three additional hit albums and several radio chart placements ensued, while many musicians came and went.

The full founding quartet recorded four new songs for an anthology and toured behind it in 1999 — then Burrell and Ralphs exited, while Rodgers and Kirke continued until 2002. (Merchants of Cool, a live disc from that tour, featured music from the Grove of Anaheim.) Rodgers subsequently joined Queen for a well-received world tour, resulting in 2008’s The Cosmos Rocks studio album, though that didn’t make much of an impact.

Surviving members of Bad Company (Burrell passed away in 2006) made a short East Coast concert jaunt last summer. This past April the band’s sold-out gig at London’s Wembley Arena was filmed for an upcoming live DVD; a new retrospective, The Very Best of Free & Bad Company — due out domestically sometime in the future — landed the band in the U.K. Top 10 for the first time in decades. A Hard Rock Live DVD/CD also arrived in stores recently.

But their impact continues to be felt here, including in local ways: Before the show in Costa Mesa, fans could donate money for a signed memorabilia raffle to benefit the Kids Rock Free music education program at Fender Center in Corona. Rodgers is an active supporter of the facility, having appeared and performed there on several different occasions.

Over the course of a 90-minute, 16-song set, Bad Company tastefully kicked out the jams before a packed venue of enthusiastic concert-goers. Ralphs, 66, walked onstage and looked happy to be back in Orange County after a long absence. He immediately motioned for everyone to stand as the guys opened with “Can’t Get Enough.”

Rodgers, clad in a lime green shirt and black vest, twirled the microphone stand in the air and sang with gusto. Former Heart guitarist Howard Leese, who has played in Rodgers’ solo band since the late ’90s, did tandem riffs alongside Ralphs.

For “Run with the Pack,” Rodgers stood to play a black piano and added the first of several soulful vocal tags at the end. With the stage shrouded in smoke and lightning projected on the video screens, an ominous-sounding “Burnin’ Sky” was an early highlight. Lynn Sorenson, another mainstay from Rodgers’ solo band, excelled here with sinewy bass lines, while the singer delivered gritty wails at the song’s conclusion.

Lightening the mood, the band’s hit cover of the Coasters’ “Young Blood” was simple fun, while the gorgeous ballad “Seagull” found Rodgers and Ralphs alone at the front of the stage on acoustic guitars.

Some harder-edged rock came via “Gone Gone Gone” (from 1979’s Desolation Angels). Then Rodgers was back at the piano for the tranquil “Electricland,” which the frontman said was inspired by Paris. He had no problem with the sustained vocal notes. Leese’s 12-string guitar work on the extended intro to “Simple Man” shimmered; Rodgers infused the contemplative song with bluesy vocalizations.

The subtle folk accents on “Feel Like Makin’ Love” were freshened up and elevated live, thanks to Leese’s mandolin work and Rodgers’ harmonica solo. Audience members loudly sang along at Rodgers’ prodding, but did so even more boisterously during the poignant casualty tale “Shooting Star.” Despite its non-hit status, that track’s reception is equal to that of “Rock and Roll Fantasy” and “Movin’ On.”

For the encores, Bad Company offered up a laid-back “Ready for Love,” with dreamier guitar effects that verged on the psychedelic, plus more of Rodgers’ bluesy inflections. Both he and Ralphs playfully leaned on each other a few times, proving the old camaraderie remained intact.

Fittingly, images of flames and horsemen were projected on the screens as the band performed its fiery namesake tune. They pulled out all the stops. To quote another popular selection, Bad Company simply rocked steady on this evening.

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