April 12, 2014
Long Beach Convention Center
Long Beach, CA
Review by Junkman
Photos by Ron Lyon
The annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach was an interesting setting for race fans as well as music fans on a beautiful Saturday evening. On the day before the big race, after time trials have been completed, a concert is presented, free to those possessing a race ticket (although, I made my way around that) in front of the Long Beach Performing Arts Center, resplendent with cascading fountains and a beautiful Southern California sunset.
This year, it was the great Paul Rodgers, lead singer for Free, Bad Company, the Firm, Queen, with a terrific solo career as well, who spotlighted this particular setting. Along with his solo band featuring former Heart guitarist Howard Leese, who is now also a member of Bad Company as a second guitarist on tour and a cast of Raiding The Rock Vault, Rodgers rocked the crowd of a few thousand people with an hour-long set of hits.
Opening with the title track of Bad Company's 1977 release Burnin' Sky, Rodgers, ever the pro front man, was in full control, of not only the crowd, but his incredible voice. "Ah, a day at the races!" he exclaimed as the crowd roared its approval. I chuckled at the reference to a Queen album of the same name. The 1976 Bad Company release Run With The Pack was represented next with "Live For the Music" and the title track, featuring Rodgers displaying his patented microphone stand twirls, all the while singing in his original key and never missing a note.
After a surprising take on the Free rarity "Mr. Big" (yes, the band of the same name took it from this song), Rodgers launched into a couple of numbers from his 2014 release, The Royal Sessions. "I Thank You" and "Born Under A Bad Sign" are two of the classic blues and soul songs Rodgers covers oh so well. These two spotlighted his band featuring the aforementioned Leese on guitar, but the main attraction was the "ageless" voice of 64-year-old Rodgers.
Leese strummed a mandolin, forming the opening notes of the Bad Company classic "Feel Like Makin' Love" from 1975's Straight Shooter LP. The crowd, estimated at over 3000, sang along on the chorus. "Shooting Star" from the same release was next, and it seemed like the entire place knew every word, putting a huge smile on Rodgers’ face, as it was sung back to him.
Another surprise followed — this one from the Firm, Rodgers 80s collaboration with Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page — an anti-war song called "Tear Down The Walls" from 1986’s Mean Business, and it's lyrics hold true to what’s going on in the world these days. Giving tonight's setting, and the beauty of Rodgers’ voice, it was an unexpected treat.
Bad Company's very first hit "Can't Get Enough" followed, sending most of the crowd, who had been partying all day at the race, into a frenzy. Rodgers then thanked the crowd and exclaimed "You ARE my Rock n Roll Fantasy," before launching into the track of the same name from Bad Company's 1979 Desolation Angels release, again inciting a sing-along on the chorus.
Rodgers got behind his grand piano for a very spot-on version of "Bad Company," the title track of that band’s 1974 debut album. If you closed your eyes — and many did — during this one, especially after a long day of partying, you would swear you were listening to the radio of whatever car you were driving in 1974. The man’s voice is amazing! Not a bad note all night. A true pro, nailing the same songs in the same key, as they were originally recorded, 40 years ago!
Closing the set with "Rock Steady," another one from 1974, the crowd roared its approval. Rodgers thanked everyone for coming, and then, just like that, he was "off to the races," ending a magnificent evening as the throngs of people filed their way past the fountains and into the downtown Long Beach night.
Paul Rodgers and Bad Company will be touring this summer. Be sure and catch them when they come to a town near you. Treat yourself to his 2014 release, The Royal Sessions, recorded in Memphis and featuring the singer’s interpretation of classic Stax soul and blues numbers.