Live on Sunset Strip
Ryko (RCD 10879)Grade: *****
A 33-year absence made hearts grow fonder for the Raspberries.
In 2005, the band that practically drew up the blueprints for power-pop ? along with Big Star, of course ? and influenced everybody from KISS to Cheap Trick to Teenage Fanclub to Joan Jett and Bruce Springsteen reunited for a brief series of shows, a VH-1 special and a concert broadcast on XM Satellite Radio, and what a welcome return to form it was.
Channeling Beach Boys' harmonies and the '60s British Invasion guitar rock of the Who and the Hollies through a colorful prism of classic pop, the Raspberries were critics' darlings and scored a string of hits in the '70s, before an acrimonious split in 1975.
From the initial splash of their debut record in 1972, which birthed the tear-stained balled "Don't Want to Say Goodbye" and the fan favorite "Go All The Way," through 1974's Starting Over, the Raspberries produced bittersweet, seamless pop-rock with just enough bite to draw blood.
There was heartache in their gorgeous vocal harmonies and hooks that proved irresistible even to tin ears.
Over the years, the Raspberries' legend grew, and calls for a return grew louder. Answering the bell, the Raspberries' original lineup of guitarist/keyboardist Eric Carmen, drummer Jim Bonfanti, guitarist Wally Bryson and bassist Dave Smalley put aside past differences and rocked the House of Blues on Los Angeles' Sunset Strip on Oct. 21, 2005, with an energetic, raucous performance that was captured by producer and Grammy-winning engineer Mark Linett.
And now, those who weren't there can experience it for themselves with Rykodisc's Live on Sunset Strip. Available in two versions ? a deluxe digipak with 21 tracks spread across two CDS, plus a bonus five-song DVD, and a 13-song CD of the band's best-known songs ? Live on Sunset Strip shows time hasn't rusted the Raspberries' chops.
"I Wanna Be With You," with its chiming guitars and tender verses, kicks off the set with "snap, crackle, pop" drumming and '50s-style vocal harmonizing, and it's followed by a tough, sharp cover of the Who's "Can't Explain." Later, the Raspberries play a flawless version of "Needles And Pins" that rings so true it sounds like their own creation.
Getting back to Raspberries' originals, the band launches headlong into the swaggering rocker "Play On" and a rollicking version of "Tonight," with Bryson spinning off barbed snarls of slightly distorted guitar that leave the crowd chanting his name.
The touching, country-rock swing of "Should I Wait" folds heartache into the jangle-pop of the Byrds, and "Let's Pretend" swoons so perfectly it magnetically draws lovers together.
A highlight of Disc 2, obviously, is "Overnight Sensation (Hit Record)," with Carmen at the piano, pounding it and suavely massaging the ivories to fit his mood. Other gems include Carmen's "love letter to the Who," a scorching hot "I Don't Know What I Want," and the spirited closer "Go All The Way," still a marvel of pop construction that aches with sexual desperation and longing.
Hopefully, the Raspberries won't stop here.