Cheap Trick, Heart and Journey at Bethel Woods

Written by on September 2, 2008

While not the usual bands played on Revenge of the 80s Radio, these three represent very different directions of rock music as the genre changed from the late 70s through early 80s. Cheap Trick, Heart and Journey produced some of the most memorable songs of the 1980s (and in the case of the former two bands, the 70s as well). The contrasting styles of each band both in their music and their stage performances made for an excellent night at historic Bethel Woods.

First up was Cheap Trick, considered by music historians as leading pioneers of the power-pop movement. They led off with an intro tune and went right into “In the Street,” best known these days as the theme song for “The 70’s Show.”

Band Leader and Guitarist Rick Nielsen had his array of axes handy, including his trademark five-armed guitar, a box-shaped one and another with likenesses of The Beatles on it. While Nielsen is generally the MC of the show and does most of the wacky antics on the stage, he seems to also be a modest sort when he takes the mic to talk about the other members of the band.

Frontman Robin Zander can still scream as well as sing. His voice was vintage as he sang the early tunes, then flawlessly belted out their contribution to the power ballad genre “The Flame.”
Photo by Elizabeth Lynch

Cheap Trick did do the classics “Surrender.” “I Want You To Want Me” and an encore of “Dream Police,” but the audience at Bethel Woods was also treated to a song (according to Nielsen) that they had not done for some time: “I Know What I Want,” which featured bassist Tom Peterson on vocals. Peterson, of course, had his 12-string bass guitar in hand.

Also, drummer Bun E. Carlos may not smoke anymore, but our photographer, Elizabeth Lynch, loved his bunny rabbit on his drum set. A live Cheap Trick show is worth the price of admission, even without co-headlining with two other bands.

Heart came next, led in by a beautiful intro by keyboardist Debbie Shair. This is a band that made a drastic change from their classic rock style of the 70s to an arena pop-rock band in the 80s. During their performance, Heart switched back and forth between their 70s and 80s offerings.

They led off with a powerful rendition of ” ” and into “Never.” Nancy Wilson and the other guitarists let loose on “Magic Man” after that. The band seemed to want to stray form the “arena” sound of the 80s, even in their songs from those years.

Instead of the heavy rhythm guitars, Nancy Wilson opted for an acoustic while sister Ann gently sang “Alone.” As the concert went on, Heart went more acoustic with the later music but delivered their trademark electric classic rock sounds with “Rain” and “Barracuda” — complete with the retro-synth. Ann Wilson’s strong voice was the perfect match for the masterful musicians behind her. Unlike Cheap Trick, Heart did not utilize any stage showmanship to enhance their performance, but it should be noted that Debbie Shair’s keyboard playing was accented by her ballerina-like movements as she soulfully worked her magic as many eyes were on her at times as much as the Wilson sisters.

Journey was the last band to perform at Bethel Woods that night. This was going to be quite interesting for me because it would be my first time hearing the band with new lead singer, Filipino sensation Arnel Pineda as their frontman.

Apparently, he had a band that was doing some very good covers of Journey songs. Pineda took the stage with the band and started very strong, sounding like a young Steve Perry. He moved like a less-overacting Steven Tyler on the stage and seemed to be a great fit with the group. The sellout crowd at the original Woodstock site agreed (if their cheers and applause were any indication).

How hard is it to find someone to replace a singer with a unique-sounding voice? Normally, a band would have to either lose something as far as stage performance ability or settle for a different sound altogether (or even change their entire band’s image like Van Halen did when David Lee Roth and the band parted ways).

Pineda was a good find as he was able to sing and get the crowd going with some good stage movements. I would be sure Journey fans are happy Neal Schon and company did not go the route INXS went when they ran a reality show as a tryout for their new lead singer. Journey’s classics rang through the grounds of Bethel Woods bringing back memories of skipping class and weekend parties to the audience, who were standing and singing along by the end of their set.

Bethel Woods is running more amphitheater concerts into the fall and management is working on next year’s concert lineup. For more information on Bethel Woods, the Woodstock Museum and how to get concert tickets, see their website.

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