Saturday, October 5, 2013

Burton Cummings Concert Review

I have seen Burton Cummings perform ... as a member of the original Guess Who, circa the early '70's ... throughout their incarnation post-Randy Bachman into the mid-'70's ... as a solo artist (backing up artists as diverse as Melissa Manchester and Alice Cooper ... all the way up through headlining status) ... and as part of various Guess Who reunions (both with and without Bachman) numerous times over the years ... at least a dozen times in all ... and have never been disappointed by one of his performances ... and that track-record remains in full force after seeing his show last Friday Night at The Arcada Theatre in St. Charles, IL ... simply put, it was one of the best shows I've ever seen.  

Now that's quite a statement considering it's been some 45 years since The Guess Who first burst into our collective consciousness ... and I'm happy to report that Burton still sounds EXACTLY the same. (Check out any number of videos recently posted on youTube ... the guy is simply amazing!)  

And, having had the chance to visit for a little while backstage after the show, I can also tell you that he looks the same, too, and appears to be in great physical shape ... easily appearing 20-25 years younger than his soon-to-be 66 years of age would indicate.  (Colin Blunstone, on the other hand ... two years older than Cummings ... looks like he could step right into the lead role of "Beetlejuice - The Musical" ... without requiring any make-up!!!)   

Of course he gets quite a workout on stage ... by the second song he was drenched and toweling off ... he pours it all into his show, which he proudly told us he can consistently do for two hours a night when performing ... it's just the other 22 hours of the day that take a little recovery time! 

An artist like Cummings bears the burden (the Burton?) of having to carry the whole show ... kind of like the lead actor who is in every scene of the movie ... but I'm happy to report that he rises to the challenge, never wavering for a moment while consistently making "good show" every step of the way. 

His back-up band, The Carpet Frogs (here referred to simply as The Burton Cummings Band) are a group of top-flight musicians and vocalists ... even Frannie (who's not quite as big a fan as I am ... but was clearly won over Friday night) had to admit that if you closed your eyes, you would swear you were listening to the records.  (Don't get me wrong ... she has loved the music of The Guess Who since day one just like the rest of us ... she's just not as crazy, over-the-top about it as I am!  lol)  Her personal favorites Friday night included "Star Baby", "Albert Flasher", "Stand Tall" and "Clap For The Wolfman".  

Actually, as promised in our interview, Cummings fed us most of the hits, also featuring stand-out tracks like "These Eyes", "Laughing", "No Sugar Tonight / New Mother Nature" (which opened the show), "Hand Me Down World", "Running Back To Saskatoon", "No Time" and (of course) "American Woman".  He also did some of his best-known solo material, including (in addition to "Stand Tall") "My Own Way To Rock", "I'm Scared" and (as a big surprise ... and apparently almost an after-thought) "You Saved My Soul" from the motion picture "Melanie", a film in which he also starred. 

Other surprises?  Several ...

A nice rendition of a J.J.Cale song called "Trouble In The City", a song they learned for their recent appearance at Massey Hall. (Cummings admitted that he has always been a fan of the song-writing talent of the recently-departed Cale ... and then asked "Why bother learning a new song for only one performance.") 

He also did the old 1968 Equals / Eddy Grant Forgotten Hit "Baby Come Back", which he and Randy Bachman resurrected for their "Jukebox" LP a few years back.  But perhaps the biggest surprise of all was the encore ... Cummings explained that he spent WEEKS learning the exact phrasing of this song so that he could sound exactly like the record when he performed it with The Deverons back in the early '60's ... and then proceeded to perform a note-for-note, letter-perfect rendition of the garage band classic "Louie Louie" that would have had The Kingsmen dropping their jaws and scratching their heads back in 1963 ... which is even all that much more impressive considering that it was now 50 years later and he was still able to completely capture the very essence of what made that such a great record in the first place.  The crowd was on its feet (as they were for a major portion of the show ... Burton told me backstage that "After Star Baby, I don't think they sat back down again at all"), which was absolutely true.  A final encore of "Share The Land" closed the show ... and then they were gone. 

Disappointments?  Two ...

He didn't perform anything from his most recent album "Above The Ground".  I've been listening to it virtually non-stop since we did our interview and it truly is a masterpiece.  Granted, most fans might not be familiar with this material ... so I strongly urge you to head over to after you finish the review and sample some of the tracks ... but it still would have been nice to hear something new 'cause this guy's still got it ... it would be a chance to let the fans know, too, that he is still creating great, new music.  My personal favorite is called "Dream" ... and I believe it's Burton Cummings at his best.  Sadly, radio continues to ignore our landmark artists when they release new material ... but this is music you should be aware of.   

And secondly, the pads to his flute stuck and, as such, he was unable to perform "Undun", a long-time favorite of most of the audience (and Guess Who fans worldwide).  Maybe next time.  (I believe he'll be back ... I had told Burton before the show that he was going to LOVE this theater ... and the audience ... and he did.)  The Arcada is an historic treasure ... acts dating back to The Marx Brothers have performed there ... and proprietor Ron Onesti has done an AMAZING job of renovating it and packing it with solid entertainment week after week after week.  Cummings told me afterwards that it's not at all unlike The Burton Cummings Theatre up in Winnipeg (lovingly referred to as "The Burt") ... it, too, has a rich legacy of regal entertainment ... and "there's just something about performing in a theater like this" to what can only be described as a COMPLETELY enthusiastic crowd. 

We missed him on his previous pass through Chicago ... two summers ago Cummings performed at The Arlington Heights Frontier Days Festival on the 4th of July, a day that reached 110-degrees!  Our air conditioner had gone out that same weekend so the prospect of leaving a 120-degree sweat box to go sit in 110-degrees sunlight was, quite honestly, less than appealing.  Instead, we went and sat in an air-conditioned restaurant (and listened to Burton Cummings radio on the CD player on the drive over!  lol)  

But I can strongly advise that if Cummings is coming to your area, THIS IS A SHOW YOU'LL WANT TO SEE!!!  Easily a "12" on a scale of 1 - 10.  (kk) 

A couple of pictures that Frannie snapped of me and Burton Cummings backstage after the show.

A link to our Burton Cummings Interview (if by some chance you still haven't read it!)

And to Burton's website, for all the latest news and appearances: