Randy Bachman’s return to LA last weekend was one of the most welcome sets by a classic-rock veteran in recent memory. During his years in the Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive, he wrote, sang and played lead guitar on a hell of a lot of great songs, so why hasn’t LA had more opportunities to see them performed? I can only recall maybe half a dozen times he’s been through town, once with Ringo’s band, once with Frampton’s Guitar Circus, a couple times with the Guess Who reunion. Canadian audiences have had a few more chances than that, but not many.
At the Saban Theater, we got pretty much all the songs we wanted to hear, some deep-catalog surprises, a few surprisingly tuff-sounding new songs, and a revealing choice of covers. Best news of all, his own performance was more than up to par, and the band he’s put together for this round plays those songs like they’re meant to be played.
A lot of the audience seemed to be around my age, people who would have grown up with BTO since they were kids. Like Kiss and Alice Cooper, BTO is a Peoples’ Band, best appreciated if you loved them at a young age and heard them on the radio a lot. They’re not the kind of band fetishized by bootleg collectors or (most) music writers, but, when the first two notes of “Taking Care Of Business” leak out of Bachman’s amp, a room of people goes nuts. They can name that tune in two notes. They can sing along to the entire guitar solo in “American Woman” and every stutter in the chorus of “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet.” They might not remember every note of the Guess Who’s “No Time”, but when they hear it played perfectly in concert, they give it a standing ovation.
These are songs that have become deeply ingrained in the public mind, and Bachman delivers them with fine detail. He’s helped by the presence of a young, aggressive backing band, made up of singer/ guitarist Brent Kundsen, who handles most of the songs originally sung by C.F. Turner and Burton Cummings quite convincingly, bassist Anna Ruddick and drummer Dale Anne Brendon.
The latter pair can be heard driving the rhythms of Bachman’s new Heavy Blues album, and the handful of tracks that made it into the setlist saw him returning to the scene of his greatest triumphs. Bachman once took the chord progression from the verse of “Baba O’Riley” and used it in the chorus of “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet”, and Pete Townshend returned the favor by snatching the verse from the same track and using it for his own “Sister Disco”; in the new “The Edge”, Bachman ups the ante by stealing the opening of “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and turning it into a song about his own vitality. This exchange is way more fun than a bunch of lawsuits.
Throughout the night, the guitar playing was a big feature, favoring melodic, finely detailed passages over endless soloing. His lighter side often expresses itself as breezy, Wes Montgomery-style playing over samba beats, as on the BTO deep cuts “Blue Collar” and “Looking Out For #1.” The numerous covers – “Shakin’ All Over” by Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, Jeff Beck’s “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers” and a solid slam through Zep’s “How Many More Times” following a Page/Plant inspired revision of “Undun”- all gave him a chance to play lyrically, sometimes minimally, with style and grace.
Also appearing on stage was upstart Iowa shredder Nick Knedler, who had won Bachman’s online contest to put a new solo over the title track from Heavy Blues and flew out to LA to play it on stage. The gracious Bachman let him stay up there and wail through “American Woman” and “Taking Care of Business”, before finishing with a moving take on Roy Buchanan’s “The Messiah Will Come Again.” The crowd filing out looked genuinely surprised at what they had just seen, a major figure in our collective rock and roll memory, giving us what we wanted and a few unexpected thrills to boot. That’s what a late-period return to form’s supposed to look like. Let it roll.