Smelled so sweet

Posted By on December 16, 2007

My wife and I had never seen the Raspberries until we caught them Dec. 14 at the State Theatre, a fitting venue for so quintessential a Cleveland group. The old vaudeville house was about two-thirds full, which I thought was strange considering these hometown favorites hadn’t played Cleveland in over three years, when a House of Blues reunion show – after 30 years-plus – sold out in four minutes.

The Raspberries were very good and occasionally great. They soared on “I Don’t Know What I Want,” the Beatles’ “Ticket To Ride” (featuring fabulous Wally Bryson vocals and guitar), the Who’s “Substitute” (Eric Carmen sounded and looked triumphant here) and the final encore, their thrilling “Go All the Way,” one of the best pop songs of all time; I rank it with the Who’s “I Can See for Miles” and Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” as a tune that shouldn’t end, it’s so transporting.

It was a cool show, and to their credit, those “musical differences” that sundered the group in 1975, mainly due to tension between Carmen (the group’s more polished heart) and Bryson (its gruffer, edgier soul), didn’t surface. They even played several Carmen solo tunes, including a fabulous “All By Myself” (the longer version) and “I’m a Rocker,” one of those generic, pulsating tunes of the ’70s that you can’t help grooving to.

Carmen’s voice didn’t always reach its former heights, and Bryson sounded rough, if true. Dave Smalley shone on his “Should I Wait,” a sweet slice of proto-country rock; Bryson’s “Last Dance” was – Bryson will cringe if he reads this – sunny and lovely. The show did better when it rocked harder, equalizing the mix between Carmen’s powerful voice, Bryson’s slashing guitar and Jim Bonfanti’s indefatigably exciting, Keith Moon-styled drumming.

Nostalgia, however, only goes so far, and nostalgia may be all the Raspberries have to offer. Raspberries tunes are largely pre-political, pre-social consciousness. There is little questioning, skepticism or irony in them; above all, there is yearning and desire. “Go All the Way,” “Ecstasy,” “If You Change Your Mind,” “Overnight Sensation (Hit Record),” “Don’t Want To Say Goodbye” are all, essentially, love songs (“Overnight Sensation” cleverly conflates commercial and sexual ambition), harking back to a simpler, more personal time, a time when the Raspberries – and their audience – were so much younger. That subtext made the show both exciting and bittersweet. What it means for a Raspberries future, only time will tell. There’s no question that their past, even their second life, is glorious.


3 Responses to “Smelled so sweet”

  1. Ron E. Duncan says:

    Thanks for the excellent review as we too enjoyed the concert! Sincerely, VankyPanky

  2. Trindy says:

    Why is it necessary for a band to be political or socially conscious? Why should not being political or socially conscious relegate them to being “nostalgia”? Raspberries are great purveyors of magnificent power pop–and lucky we are that being able to do such a thing has come back into style. And questioning, skepticism and irony is there, all right–just not in the quantities that would probably be necessary to make this band “hip” in the eyes of more people. Oh well…I guess it’s their loss.

  3. It’s nice to see you make postings about this topic, I need to bookmark your post.
    Just keep up the good work.

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I'm a veteran critic and business writer who reads and listens and writes about music, books, hotels and travel. I've been in the business for many years and still enjoy it. My pride and joy is my book, Cleveland Rock & Roll Memories. Follow me on Twitter: