Reviews of the first concert with
The NEW GRAND FUNK RAILROAD
12/2 Show in West Palm Beach
Dear Brethren and Sistren in Funkness,
(Dang that feels good!)
As I begin writing this, it's almost 3am here. I just got back from Florida, and I am ONE *H A P P Y* BEAR!
Getting on the airplane early yesterday morning (which now seems to be about a lifetime ago) I was feeling all the old excitement that preceded a show. I had my RK uniform on and I was ready. Pulling up to the hotel after the flight I saw Jimmy and Liz Giranda sitting out in front, and I must have murdered several palm trees trying to get the rental parked while jumping out of it at the same time. Remember in '98 how it felt when the gang started gathering before a show? Sure you do. Have you missed it as much as I have? Maybe... "Who all's here so far?" "Where are they?" "Shooting pictures at sound check?" "How come you're not there?" Jimmy says its because he wants the very first sound he hears from the new Grand Funk Railroad to be the opening of the new tour. I'd like to be able to say that I'm as classy as Jimmy G but the truth is really that I had no CLUE how to get from the hotel to the venue. I did finally make it over there at least in time to visit with DJ awhile. It was good to see DJ again.
The preshow was a lot of fun as they always are, getting to meet new friends, see old friends, and connect faces with names. We got the folks at the restaurant there to take the traditional group photo and everything. It was great. Shock, you done good. We made it over to the venue about the time Blue Oyster Cult was getting
started. Honestly the show was ok, but it just didn't move me all that much. The folks in our group were trying to get positioned for THE SHOW, and several other people in the crowd stopped me and asked me about the band and the new lineup. I guess it was the shirt...Then....The lights go down, the now familiar 2001 Fanfare starts, and "Here's the group you've been waiting to see: GRAND FUNK RAILROAD!" I'm getting chills just remembering it.
Photo credit: Craig Clingan
Yeah, there was a glitch with Max's microphone but it was taken care of. The energy started! It was fun watching things develop on-stage. Right at first, and I mean like during the mic problems and for maybe another 10-15 seconds afterwards, I thought I could detect a little tenseness in Max. I mean, this was his first night with THE best rock band on the planet, right? But it was wonderful to hear the response coming from the crowd, and I mean the -whole- crowd not just Roadkill, and watch that energy start to work it's magic on Max (and Bruce, and
By the time "Rock N Roll Soul" was over, you could just tell those guys were getting pumped! I bet their faces are sore for a week from grinning so big - all night long. Bruce's guitar work on "Heartbreaker" and "Inside Looking Out" was terrific. He managed to preserve the feeling of the songs and also add his own touches here and there. Stan had told me from what he'd heard at sound check that
"Shinin' On" was going to blow me away. It did. Big time. The guy is good - real good. Expect great things from him in the months to come.
Max's vocals I thought also maintained the emotion of the songs without trying to be carbon copies. That's what impressed me the most about Max, the level of emotion he put into everything he did. That's what GFR is about for me: power and emotion. Both were present in abundance throughout the whole show. I don't think I'd ever heard "Walk Like A Man" performed live before, unless is was back in 1973, so that was a real treat for me personally.
The "percussion thang" which I think is one of Max's creations named "Rolling Thunder" was nothing short of an
on-stage party with drums. It started off with Don's solo from TNUC and moved on to add all the members of the band playing some sort of percussion instrument. Being a drummer m'self, I loved it. Mel was up on the drum riser riding a big ol' djembe like it was a bronco. Speaking of Mel, the guy was an animal! He moved around more in the first 10 minutes than I had ever seen in all the other shows combined.
I also noticed a different yet very familiar sound emanating from his bass cabinets. It turns out, brethren and sistren, that Mr. Schacher has done gone and dragged out his old overdrive box, blown the dust out of it, and put it back into service! Oh yeah! Watch this space closely for future developments and please, move away from any fault lines in your neighborhood.
Musically, I noticed Tim the most during "I'm Your Captain" when he was playing the orchestra parts. That's another moment in the show that is really special, because you can feel the awareness of what the band is
about to play spread through the crowd. Its a powerful moment. Roadkill had a special moment at the end of that song, too, when we threw some of the confetti from the Sioux City show into the air and Sunny tossed some on stage. It was one of those things that just felt right to me.
If you haven't figured it out by now, I loved it. I loved the whole show. I loved the new songs in the set, I loved the new touches on the old songs in the set, but most of all I loved what I saw in the faces of all 5 guys in the band. They were having FUN! It was that old synergy thing alive and kicking. Energy flowing from band to crowd and back again and getting stronger with each trip. I looked several times and as far as I could see no one was sitting.
From the front of the stage to the sound board the people were up and into the show. After the show everyone who had asked me about the lineup changes earlier came up to me and were very vocal in their praise and approval for this new continuance of Grand Funk Railroad. Did I have a good time? Well, my
neck and my knees are a little sore today from all the "dancing" and my
voice is like asphalt in a blender.
Yeah, I had a good time. I think you will too. And you know what? If you'll think back to Atlanta Pop in 1969, what catapulted Grand Funk Railroad to the top wasn't the names or the faces because they were ALL "no names" then.
What took the country and large chunks of the world by storm in 1969 was the power and the heart and the FUN in the music. I'm pleased to report that they're
all still there. In spades.
With love and thanks to the families of GFR, and to Roadkill,
Respectfully submitted, No Lies - Keep it ........ Shinin' On
J Robert Garrett
Photo credit: Darryll Davis
I haven't posted reviews before of the 3 shows I saw on the 98 tour. For the most part, several others on the list pretty much said it all. With all of the contention about this nGFR, I thought that the more information that people have to evaulate the next version, the better. So I figured I better weigh in with this novella.
First of all, I've really come to appreciate getting together with the 'Killers. Of the 3 previous pre-shows and meet and greets that I've attended before, the only guy I've seen more than once is Rob Garrett.
Getting together with some new folks after two years of living down here in Florida was nice. I've got a strange job where I work shift work and after 2 years of living here, I hardly know anyone outside of work or my next door neighbors. So it was particularly heartening to find that of all of the Florida 'Killers that I new about, only Rob McKinney and George Anderson were missing. And a crisp salute to all of the road-weary types that came in from out of state.
Seeing the stage when we went down to the RK section in front was interesting itself. It was of course, dominated by a bright blue set of Peavey's on a raiser from which Don would go on to command most of the show. Bill Parrette assured me at the start of the show that they were authorized Brewer accessories.
Mike's were set up for everybody except Mel, and there were two sets of keys. There was a Kurzweil almost up front and center and a couple of keyboards stacked off to the side. The disappointing thing I thought was that they were set kind of far back and off to the one side for a featured sideman.
I wondered if Bruce would use more than one guitar after I notice that he did not appear to have a spare lined up and waiting in a rack for him anywhere. Throughout, I didn't see him switch guitars either, he appeared to play the same blue guitar all night, but he was off stage for a couple of brief breaks and may have.
The B.O.C. was a little late getting off and the show pretty much started about 8:30. Don told us later that they were supposed to be off stage by 10P and they finished 16 songs by 10:07 when they were done. I suppose they could have done a longer show but the 10P deadline was imposed by the City of WPB because the concert was held in a park downtown.
I have to tell you, after waiting so long to hear it again, the opening of Also Sprach Zarathrustra got my blood going again and really got the crowd to shouting. Our boys walked out, gave a polite wave or two and broke into Rock And Roll Soul.
Remember hearing the Live Album for the first time and wondering how three guys could put out so much power and attitude? Hearing that raw energy and just knowing that this band has balls?! (Excuse me ladies.)
Well, I've seen the original line-up. Saw 'em 3 times on the last tour. I heard the classics and heard the voices that brought them to life. Heard the licks like they were supposed to be done. The alternative was that I could have gone to see them some more, but hearing that playlist one more time after buying Bosnia, was
you know, boring. The band seemed bogged down and some of the cuts that I enjoyed so much just were not played as fast as I remembered them.
This ain't your old Grand Funk anymore. While Mark hasn't exactlyhired 'A' talent in part I think, to remain the big name in the band, (avoiding the Ringo All-Star Band type label); Don and Mel didn't hesitate to hire 'A' talent to help front the band.
Whatever you think of the Markless nGFR, there's no denying that Max, Bruce and Tim are talented instrumentalists and singers. Max and Bruce weren't in bands with millions in sales for nothing.
So the biggest thing that hit me with the opening number was that the energy, power and attitude were back. With Max on second guitar, those monitor levels were on red. And as emotional as I knew I was feeling at the time, I got this lump in my chest. Then it dawned on me, THAT WAS MEL!
Wait a minute, where is Mel? Oh, he's over here. No wait, he's over there. From seeing him in action before, I thought he was related to John Entwhistle, the way he just stood there and played. It was great seeing him laughing and smiling and coming up front with Max and Carl to put that rockin' Funk in your face.
In brief (ha!) - leaner, meaner, louder, faster.
I was wondering how far afield the play list was going to get when the next song was Footstompin' Music but when Walk Like A Man came up next, all hell broke loose. I was standing next to Garrett and he was in full head bangin' mode. Shock was standing directly behind me and I was comparing how much he sounded like Don during this number. I thought I was hearing stereo vocals, Shock can sing! (Or was it the beer, ha!)
The energy levels weren't letting down any when they went directly from WLAM to Shinin' On. This number was used on the last tour to get the show pumped up again but it was beginning to look like these guys didn't want to come down. Neither did I or about 3,000 other people in the park!
Heartbreaker! My all-time Funk fav! I had been paying attention to Bruce's playing and everything was very much to form, but that was about it. The licks were there but Bruce has his own style and brought his own licks to use too. He appeared loose and relaxed for the big debut, replacing THE MAN after all, and worked the crowd in front of the stage as much as his cable would allow. Don would say later that it was a complete coincidence and definitely not planned when I asked him about it; Bruce was wearing red sneakers!
There was a slight pause after HB, everybody had broken a sweat by now. Then the show got interesting again. Max sang one of his songs from his .38 Special days, (A Heart Deserves A) Second Chance.
Nice change up.
The crowd was brought back into full Funk mode when Locomotion was next. By now, I was beginning to notice that Max and Carl were trading leads. Max was mostly a rhythm guy but he had some chops too!
The challenge then of taking on Roadkill and the Farnerites hemorraged when Max walked up to the keys in front and broke into Mean Mistreater. I won't go into opinions either way about this but let me just tell you that it was a solid, journeyman presentation and worthy of inclusion in the set list tonight. Mark and others may not like this nGFR doing his classic numbers but this one and the others were at least done well.
Photo credit: Craig Clingan
In the immortal words of Paul Harvey, "and now, the rest of the story." After the show, Don told us that the band had really only had 3 practice sessions. He said the new guys had been learning their parts beforehand and it served them well. They all noted that the guy who had the toughest job was Max, having to learn the lyrics of almost a whole catalog of tunes, but he did very well without any noticeable gaffs.
This was surprising to hear because the band sounded so tight. Minor technical problems seemed like the only thing to trip them up but they handled each of these professionally with aplomb.
Turns out one of the promoters for this annual event, Holiday at the Beach, knew Sunny Quinn and knew that her husband was getting the band back together. They asked our boys to come out to shake off the cobwebs and they jumped at the chance to get out and get in front of the people again. The practices continue and a full-fledged tour is not scheduled to kick-off until February. For now, only 5 shows are booked but their agent is out in the field actively booking for them as we speak.
So production values at the show consisted of Mel all in leather and Don wearing his RK signed GFR T-shirt and Shock's American flag hat. The other guys were in street clothes. No big flag banners, no back-lit videos. In fact, the lighting was terrible and each of the members of the band were often left in the dark during their solos. And was that guy with the spot-light drunk or what? Don't they know what effect a poor lighting job can
have on those of us with cameras in the front row? Ha!
For me though, all that mattered was the music and it was getting even more interesting. Remember that I said that it appeared that Don was running the show? The reason behind this was in part due to the guys getting familiar with the lead-ins. Most numbers began with Don counting off 1-2-3-4.
Here's where Don was front and center as he got Bruce to give him a couple of quick riffs and then he broke into the now familiar drum solo from TNUC. While we're used to hearing this as an ender,
this solo actually lead into another Max penned number, Rolling Thunder. Even though Max had a brief flute lead, the song was actually a percussion number with Tim and Mel(!?) on bongo drums, Max playing a big bass drum, and Bruce on tambourine. Sounds strange but made for a great drummer's showcase.
With RT ending and the crowd in a kind of wow-what-the-hell-was- that? mindset Bruce kicked into what would turn into a wicked, sleazy version of Inside Looking Out. When was the last time you heard this tune and thought it sounded sexy? The band and the sound is for real.
Max then went back to the keys for another tune he wrote called One More River. A couple of things struck me during this song. First of all, Max can write a good song and I was secretly hoping this would lead to some fresh and innovative Funk material.
Don would later say that the reason for choosing the songs they were performing was because of the strength of the songwriting. By virtue of some of Mark's signature tunes being included in the set, you have to give it to them that the band is acknowledging his contribution to their mutual namesake and were aspiring to perform vibrant and representative performances of his work.
(Insert personal opinion here: I can't believe that the band harbors any evil intent in ripping off Mark or meant him any ill will for not wanting to get back on track with the railroad.)
The second observation that I recall about Max was how many instruments the guy can play. Or is it more like what can't he play? At various points during the night, he played lead and rhythm guitar, keyboards, drums, flute, and appeared to know how to effectively wiggle his ass in tight pants in front of the ladies.
If Don thought Max was just going to come in and take over, he responded by coming down front and leading the crowd in another sing-along of Some Kind of Wonderful. He took the opportunity to point out some of his buds in the audience, the 'Killers in the front row of course!
When the guys broke into Bad Time, I heard the same thing that I heard when they started Mean Mistreater. Several of the 'Killers all going "oohhhh" at the same time. The kind of 'oohhhh' you hear when you see somebody get insulted and you just know a fight's about to break out! But then again, you have to be a 'Killer to appreciate the humor in that one. Ha!
The tune didn't completely end when Tim kicked in the orchestral movement of Closer To Home. I heard somebody standing near me remark "Mark Who?" just as Max was beginning the vocal acapella lead. Then I heard it again. "Oohhhh." (Nothing like prompting a lively discussion.)
CTH/IYC came to a close and the crowd really got into again when Don cranked up We're An American Band. All and all, a rousing, up-lifting show that a lot of nay-sayers will have a hard time trashing if they take the time to go and see for themselves what Don and Mel have done by bringing on these new fellas.
And I've got to tell you, at the 3 shows I saw on the last tour, I don't remember hearing this but a chant started down front (surprise) and carried over to encompass the whole park - "We want Grand Funk!" This went on until the boys came back to more cheering and applause.
The closer? An extended version of the Chuck Berry rave-up, Rock And Roll Music. The nice touch was that Tim came up front to work the keys at the front of the stage and the other 3 stood next to him at the edge of the stage for the whole number. I'm going to remember the four of them across and the good-time party atmosphere of this show for a long time.
But you don't have to read all this to know for sure. Go see for yourself. Coming to your town in 2001, ladies and gentlemen, Grand Funk Railroad!