9 April 2008
Boulder Theatre, Boulder, CO
I've seen the modern-era version of Firefall in concert enough times for me to lose count, starting in 1993, and as recently as 2007. Tonight was a special evening. All living original members of the band reunited for the first time in over 25 years.
Several planets had to align at just the right time for this to happen. For starters, multi-instrumentalist David Muse had to fly in from a Corpus Christi, TX performance with the Marshall Tucker Band. Percussionist Joe Lala flew in from Tampa, FL. Bassist Mark Andes flew in from Houston, TX. Larry Burnett, long since divorced from years of drug use and mental illness, flew in from Washington, DC. And, even producer Jim Mason (FreeFlow Productions) flew in to sit behind the soundboard.
Jock Bartley, the lone original member still touring with the modern-era version, chose a venue location in Boulder, CO, where the original band formed in 1974.
After a brief big-screen video introduction, the modern-era lineup, which has served the audience well for over 15 years with a very respectable replica sound of the band's platinum-selling studio work of the 1970s and early 1980s, took stage. Besides Bartley, the modern-era incarnation is lead vocalist Steven Weinmeister, bassist Bill Hopkins, and drummer Sandy Ficca.
Lala and Muse re-joined this lineup for the duration of the show, and opened with the first track of their first album, "It Doesn't Matter", co-written by original lead vocalist Rick Roberts, an individual who helped form Firefall, Chris Hillman, and Stephen Stills, all three of whom lived in Boulder in the early 1970s. Joe Lala, who performed on not only the Firefall version (1976), but also the Manassas and Dan Fogelberg versions (1972 & 1987, respectively), tapped on his congas, cowbell, woodblock, and steel drum just as if he were in the studio again.
After the Jock Bartley song dedicated to midwest flood victims, "When The River Rises", and "Sweet & Sour", Andes and Burnett joined the stage and received an enthusiastic response from the packed house at the Boulder Theatre. While Andes took over bass duties, Hopkins occasionally played bass, acoustic guitar, or electric guitar, and/or added harmony vocals.
Following "So Long", Bartley introduced "Cinderella" as his favorite Firefall song, describing Burnett, Andes and original drummer Michael Clarke recording the basic track in the studio, and the multiple overdubs including the harmonica, flute, and harmonies. Larry and Jock teamed up for the opening riff on acoustic guitars, and after Larry sang the first verse the audience response accelerated. Larry, wearing a sleeve-less t-shirt, standing tall as he always has, and now sporting glasses and a pony tail, seemed recovered from his past troubles, though perhaps a bit shy on stage. Multiple times after the sprightly performance, he asked, "Did I say thank you?".
Jock briefly honored Michael Clarke who sadly passed away in December 1993 after a bout with liver disease.
Steven Weinmeister properly honored the man who most agree deserves the most credit for Firefall's legacy, singer/guitarist/songwriter Rick Roberts, and introduced his 1977 song, "Someday Soon". Then, to the surprise of many, the band brought Rick himself out on stage--Rick slowly walked out with the help of a cane, and for a minute expressed his happiness to participate, but his regret that he was unable to perform because of a recent injury and because, as he described it, "My chops aren't up." He thanked the crowd, and he slowly walked off to a standing ovation. The band then dedicated their next selection, "Just Remember I Love You" to Rick, who stood backstage, admiring the event, and even mockingly directing the band with his cane while smirking. Afterwards, Rick proceeded into the night, back to his home in Boulder.
Later in the set the band performed a lengthy version of "Strange Way", and Jock introduced "Mexico" by describing recording sessions at Criteria Studios in Miami, FL in the 1970s--while Jock recorded his lead guitar solo, unbeknownst to Jock, Eric Clapton, in the Criteria control room, viewed the performance with interest. Prophetic were the opening lyrics, "Last night it snowed for the first time.....", given the turn that Boulder, CO weather had taken this very evening.
The lineup took a 20-minute break and returned, intact, for another full set including "Livin' Ain't Livin'", and the Roberts-penned Burrito Brothers classic "Colorado". During the show, Jock remarked how Atlantic records "wanted more 'You Are The Woman's", but insisted that Larry Burnett's rockers were an integral part of Firefall's sound. Accordingly, the concert featured Burnett's "No Way Out", "Get You Back", and "Lips"--Jock Bartley's son, Jamey, visited the stage to play drums on the latter two.
Video/audio crews taped the event for an upcoming CD and DVD, and during the concert technicians asked Bartley and gang to perform second takes of "Strange Way" and "You Are The Woman". Jock introduced a brand new, just-rehearsed song that the band performed for the first time, the environmentally-correct "Walk More Softly".
After an encore of Burnett's outtake "Sharpshootin' At The Senator", and Roberts' "Goodbye I Love You", ended the 3 3/4 hour show, Jock thanked long time producer Jim Mason, and an exhausted audience cheered triumphantly, slowly trickling out of the Theatre.
The Firefall Reunion pretty much left every ticket holder satisfied. My hat's off to Jock and everyone else for pulling off what was as close to a miracle as realistically possible.
[**** 1/2] - Steven T.
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