CD Review: Bachman & Turner - Live at the Roseland Ballroom, NYC
|Bachman & Turner 2012|
Hard hats in hand, Randy Bachman and Fred Turner went back to work a few years ago after a long layoff. The driving forces behind ‘70s blue-collar rockers Bachman-Turner Overdrive had mothballed BTO in 2005, before reuniting as Bachman & Turner with a self-titled album that turned back the clock to 1973 and displayed the kind of industrious riffs, lovably gruff melodies and tight, rugged hooks that made workingman’s anthems of “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet,” “Let it Ride,” “Roll on Down the Highway” and “Takin’ Care of Business” – all of them steeped in Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, bologna sandwiches and blind optimism. The hit factory they’d shut down was back up and running, and they didn’t need a bailout to get the assembly line running at peak efficiency, as it did at the Roseland Ballroom.
If only the rest of the world gave a damn about good, honest songwriting and no-frills, guitar-driven rock and roll. Rolling up their sleeves, Bachman & Turner rumbled into the Roseland in New York City on November 16, 2010 and stubbornly plowed through a slew of hard-hitting classics and new sonic brawls without regard for what’s trendy or fashionable these days. And they do more than just punch a clock on this warm-sounding double-CD live recording – a DVD/Blu-ray release is also scheduled – of that comeback show. Starting with a rigorous, triumphant run through “Let it Roll,” Disc 1 pounds away at a brick wall of indifference with swinging sledgehammers “Rock is My Life” and “Not Fragile,” two of the toughest, most defiant songs in their catalog. Feeling bluesy, Bachman & Turner add just a touch of jazzy sophistication to “Moonlight Rider.” One of the pair’s more recent concoctions, it slides smoothly and effortlessly into the light neon glow and cocktail-hour meditation of “Lookin’ Out For #1” and the soulful, closing-time feel of Disc 2’s “Blue Collar,” while the understated pop brilliance of “Hey You” – its chorus building into something unexpectedly heady and exhilarating – shines perhaps even brighter than it did in the ‘70s.
Although their slinky, low-down reading of Johnny Kidd’s “Shakin’ All Over” wins points for its restless energy, there is a sluggishness that hits Bachman & Turner at precisely the wrong time. Just as they’re about to go out in a blaze of glory with “Roll on Down the Highway” and “Takin’ Care of Business,” the band – comprised also of drummer Marc LaFrance and guitarists Brent Howard Knudsen and Mick Dalla-Vee – struggles to get on the same page and maintain a lively pace. All of a sudden, they’re running in quicksand and drowning in it when they should be galloping toward the finish line, too eager to settle into that mythical pocket and never quite finding that open stretch of road to let the engine out.
It’s not age that’s slowing them down. Bachman still nestles those economical, searing guitar leads of his perfectly within the open cracks of a song and Turner’s booming bass sounds as vigorous and powerful as ever when they grind their way through the punishing “Four Wheel Drive” and the piston-pumping dynamo “Slave to the Rhythm.” And their spitfire version of the Guess Who classic “American Woman” snarls with primal energy. In a sense, BTO is a bit like AC/DC, doing what they do so simply that they seem to hit the spot every time they pick up their instruments. Maybe they’ve lost some of their relevance, but that’s only because the music industry is wandering in the wilderness. If there were more bands like BTO, it might not be in the mess it’s in today.
- Peter Lindblad