This past week I made a brief business trip to Boston. Well, technically I went to Seekonk Massachusetts, which is just outside of Providence Rhode Island, whose airport I flew into on Wednesday and out of on Thursday. A “business trip to Boston” sounds interesting and requires no further information, whereas mentioning “a trip to Seekonk Massachusetts” will get you strange looks and will require you to sheepishly admit that you will be over an hour from Boston and will actually be in close proximity to the capitol of Rhode Island, a claim that does little to redeem your explanation.
The point of all this is to say that my trip to “Boston” was the reason I went searching for videos of rock band Boston performing live. What I discovered was odd, but we’ll get to that later.
From June 1976 to February 1979 several impressive debut albums were released by bands that were collectively thrown into an arbitrary “genre” called New Wave, a moniker so widely used and so vaguely defined that it was rendered virtually meaningless. For most of us, “New Wave” basically meant contemporary rock music that is not punk, not disco, not Rumours, and not Hotel California. During that two and a half year span, Boston (June 1976), Foreigner (March 1977), The Cars (June 1978), Dire Straits (October 1978) all released self-titled debuts, and in February 1979 The Police added their debut, Outlandos d’Amour. With the clarity afforded by decades of hindsight, it is obvious that Dire Straits the album was the best of these five and Dire Straits the band, along with The Police are the only bands whose subsequent work would consistently equal or exceed the quality of their debuts. That being said however, Boston’s first release is probably the most important because it set the stage for the others that followed.
In 1976 The Rolling Stones were in a slump, the solo work by former Beatles had lost much of its original luster, and pop stars like Elton John and Alice Cooper were becoming increasingly difficult to take seriously. Then along comes Boston, with their distinctively clear lead guitar, perfectly structured song arrangements, and irresistible vocal harmonies. The music sounded fresh and different, yet instantly accessible. The band’s first single “More Than a Feeling” was hugely popular, sending many of us to the store to buy the album, most of which, to our delight (and astonishment) was as good if not better than “More Than a Feeling”. My personal favorite track (and arguably the album’s best song) is “Hitch a Ride”, which is essentially a simple but beautifully written poem set to music. Apart from an unnecessary random keyboard intrusion about ninety seconds in, the song is nearly flawless. Do yourself a favor: google the lyrics and Spotify the song “Hitch a Ride”.
Back to tonight’s video. I had no interest in the numerous YouTube videos of latter-day Boston on “nostalgia” or “reunion” tours, and I found surprisingly few good videos of the band during their brief but glorious heyday. Tonight’s video of “More Than a Feeling” was taken during Boston’s 1979 tour following the release of their second album, Don’t Look Back. This performance is oddly incongruous to the fact that they are performing their most famous song in a huge arena during a highly promoted tour. The keyboard/guitar intro is way too long, and does nothing to ramp up the anticipation for the big song to follow. The numerous roadies milling around behind the band are way too visible, smoking their cigarettes and trying to look cool. After lead singer Brad Delp amazingly holds the song’s last note from 6:30 to 6:47, the band should go straight into the obligatory Grand Crescendo and end the song, but instead they play for four more minutes, during which the only exciting thing that happens is bassist Fran Sheehan nearly loses his mind at one point. The video does include Boston’s founder and mastermind Tom Scholz doing one of his signature solos (4:43 to 5:05) but it is disappointingly brief. Rhythm guitarist Barry Goudreau is solid throughout, and the aforementioned Brad Delp is very impressive. If you only watch 2:00 to 7:00, you will get the best parts and you won’t miss anything worthy of bravely enduring all eleven minutes. You won’t hurt my feelings if you don’t watch this one at all, as long as you go check out “Hitch a Ride”.