The Robin Zander Band

December 13, 2013
The Coach House
San Juan Capistrano, CA

Review by Jim Shelley

"I sure hope this is worth the drive," I said to myself as we navigated to San Juan Capistrano, 125 miles south to where the Robin Zander Band was slated to take the stage at the Coach House. Now, I believe the Coach House to be THE venue for great bands, great crowds, and great sound. That being said, the week previous to the show, I watched probably no fewer than 20 videos of Zander’s band and was becoming a little concerned that maybe it was going to be a "phoned-in" performance. Boy, was I wrong.

Taking the stage juts before 10, the band opened with "You're My Girl" followed with "Watcha Gonna Do." Was there a background track going on? Right out of the starting gate, the band was spot-on. "If You Need Me," from the 1990 Busted album, was perfect. This writer was hoping the band could keep the energy going and wasn't disappointed.

"California Man" opened with its recognizable riff and the party was on! We immediately took notice when Zander screamed: "Going to a Party!" If anyone knows how to throw a party, it’s Robin Zander. As the vocalist and second guitarist for Cheap Trick since 1973, he’s enjoyed an illustrious career. His voice tonight demonstrated that time has not taken its toll. Plus, the guy looked great for his age.

Steve Luongo on drums absolutely kicked ass. Not in a metal way, but he didn't miss a beat and performed like a consummate professional. He’s performed and recorded with John Entwistle of the Who, Todd Rundgren, Leslie West, and members of AC/DC. He’s no amateur and it was fairly obvious.

Mark Hitt shredded on guitar. I know that word has been overused, but I can’t think of any other word to accurately describe this guy's gift. He’s played guitar with the best of the best including the Tubes, John Bonham (do I need to tell you what band he was in?) and Jack Bruce. It was easy to see why he was chosen to collaborate with the Zander band — the guy has chops!

Larry Hobbs played bass and has a day gig as an ER doctor (we found out after the show). Hobbs was the talker during the show, sprinkling little one-liners here and there. It was obvious he enjoyed this gig and probably was a little disappointed they had just one performance left for the tour. His playing was tight and calculated, and the sound was great.

This evening's show saw the band with two additional members. Robin Zander, Jr was house-right, wielding an electric guitar and playing the keyboards. He really helped to round out the sound, and his ability was showcased with the opening notes of Led Zeppelin’s "Dancing Days." It was a great song and Robin Zander nailed it! "Miss Tomorrow," from 2009’s The Latest, played just like the album version with Zander's vocals attaining all the right notes. Doesn't this guy age? Will ever his voice falter? At 60 years old, he doesn't seem to be slowing down.

Perhaps capitalizing on its popularity from the finale of the Breaking Bad television show, Zander and his band did a terrific rendition of Badfinger's "Baby Blue," keen to keeping everything original. The Scotty Moore/D.J. Fontana penned "Bad Little Girl" had the house rocking!! It seemed like there was no shutting down the Zander band! Their take on the Nilsson hit "Jump Into The Fire" didn't disappoint. It illustrated Zander's ability to take even the oldest songs, and put a modern spin on them. In fact, this song made it clear to everyone in the house that Zander's vocal range went well beyond the Cheap Trick classics, and that perhaps a solo album would be the next logical step.

Speaking of solo efforts, "Reactionary Girl" is a catchy pop tune that found the crowd doing a little dancing and clapping. Not this writer's favorite song, but you can't argue with perfection. It was performed without error. Cream’s "Badge" saw Hitt killing it. Close your eyes and you'd swear Cream was in the room. This song really showcased the guitarist’s ability to navigate the axe. This song received the longest applause of the evening, even with a minor hiccup. Once Zander realized he had started the song at the second verse, there was a sweep of the hand across the throat and his admission of guilt. LOL! No problem as they launched back into the song — from the beginning.

The Beatles’ "Getting Better" was awesome! It compelled this writer to dwell on his failure to go see Cheap Trick perform Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band when they hit the Hollywood Bowl awhile back. Zander's vocal range is so wide that he should consider covering an entire Beatles album — by himself. "Love Comes," a Cheap Trick track from 1985’s Standing On The Edge, was very nice and slow number. It also found Zander introducing another one of his kids, Robin Sailor Zander. She looked to be all of about 15, and her voice rendered the song studio-worthy. It also was the only standing ovation of the evening.

"The Flame" was perfect and Zander hit every note. If you know the song, you know the voice. It’s one of my favorite Cheap Trick songs and it absolutely made the show. Zander left the stage to Hitt, Luongo, and Hobbs and they launched into "Torque." This trio kicked ass! Luongo's drum solo made it clear why he was there. Hitt and Hobbs were, respectfully, hit and miss, but not in a bad way. Zander returned for a version of the Who’s "Bargain" and the electricity was firing back up. The energy in the room was measureable, around a nine.

"Slow Down," the Larry Williams number but recognized as a Beatles song, was another one that got the crowd riled up. The Beatles’ Abbey Road medley followed, and it seemed to get the crowd prepared for the show closer — AC/DC’s "It's A Long Way To The Top." It was electric. If you closed your eyes, Bon Scott was there! If this tune didn't highlight Zander's vocal ability, nothing could.

The band was all over the stage, pounding, and part of the drum kit fell over. "Is this for real?" I thought. There was no stopping as the drum tech up righted everything only to find the entire trap kicked to the stage in a show-stopper that, hands down, made this show one of the best this writer has ever seen at the Coach House. Was the show worth the drive? Put it this way: It was absolute Heaven Tonight in San Juan Capistrano.

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