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Boston, welcome to London

By JOE BELANGER, The London Free Press

It was  more than a feeling that something special was happening in London Saturday night.

Boston welcome to London. London welcome to Boston. Boston welcome to Rock The Park because Harris Park rocked.

Three guitars, a solid back beat on drums backed by a heavy bass and keyboards with vocal harmonies that never missed and an estimated 10,000-plus fans left Harris Park satiated, most wanting more.

Boston closed out the ninth annual festival to raise money for the Bethany s Hope Foundation and if there was a disappointment it was that they couldn t play longer.

Led by founder Tom Scholz on lead and rhythm guitar, this configuration of the band whose members -- Gary Pihl (1985) on lead and rhythm, Curly Smith (1994) on drums, David Victor (2012) lead guitar and vocals, bassist Tracy Ferrie (2012) and Tommy DeCarlo (2008) on vocals truly matched anything the original band did.



The dueling lead guitars were simply amazing on just about every song the band played, from the opening Rock and Roll Band to Smokin to More than a Feeling to Don t Look Back.

And the harmonies never missed.

DeCarlo isn t quite the late Brad Delp (who committed suicide in 2007) but his vocals are wonderful, hitting almost every note of his predecessor whose voice, combined with Scholz s guitar was what defined the band.

They nearly destroyed the crowd with Foreplay/Long Time, the anthem from their first album, Boston, that set this band on a track to stardom, selling more than 17 million copies, the second best debut album in U.S. history behind on Guns N Roses Appetite for Destruction.

Of course, Guns N Roses guitarist Slash was the headliner opening night at the park.

Saturday was a special day. In fact, immediately after REO Speedwagon left the stage, organizers Brad Jones and Dave McIntyre of Bethany s Hope Foundation, the recipient of well over $1 million from the three-day music fest, announced it was the most successful since it began nine years ago.

With an REO Speedwagon performance that sounded and felt more like a headliner than the set-up act for Boston, it s no wonder.

The band, which has sold more than 40 million albums since they exploded on the music scene in 1980 with the album Hi Fidelity, kept the crowd of at least 10,000 singing and dancing and swaying and calling out for more when the set ended.

From the opening number, Go Play, front man and lead singer Kevin Cronin (rhythm guitar and piano) had the crowd in the palm of his hand introducing hit after hit, backed by lead guitarist Dave Amato, bass guitarist Bruce Hall, Bryan Hill on drums and the one remaining founding member (since 1966) Neal Doughty on keyboards.

Of course, Cronin and Hall have been around since the early 1970s before the band s breakthrough album Hi Fidelity, which included the hits Keep on Loving You and Take It On The Run.

For the third night in a row, rain was a factor, starting moments after opening act Prism finished their set and ending before 54-40 took the stage 30 minutes later.

There was one other brief period of light rain, then the cooler air moved in and it was a near-perfect night for a concert.

Instead of discouraging the crowd, it appeared the rain rejuvenated their spirits by cooling the air a little from the blistering sunshine.

Easily one of the surprise acts of the three days was 54-40, the Vancouver band that had a series of hits through the 1980s and 90s, a band that hasn t lost a bit of their edge.

Singer-guitarist Neil Osborne, along with bassist Brad Merritt, drummer Matt Johnson and lead guitarist/keyboardist Dave Genn were flawless.

From Lies to Me to I Go Blind, Love You All, Crossing a Canyon, this band s music drove the audience to their feet, hips swaying and lips mouthing every word until the final note of Ocean Pearl.

Canadian rockers Prism opened the festivities, delighting audiences with songs from across the spectrum of their 35-year career.

It was like a trip down memory lane as the band, fronted by guitarist/singer Al Harlow, got many in the crowd dancing to about a dozen of the hits that marked Prism s first decade.

The set included such memorable hits as Spaceship Superstar, It s Over, Take Me To The Kaptin, Night to Remember, Young and Restless, and Armageddon

While they may have lost a little on the vocals, Harlow still impressed with some of the notes he hit while his showmanship, especially on the guitar, was infectious.

Rock the Park is the key fundraiser to help raise money for the London-based Bethany's Hope Foundation.

Over eight editions, Rock the Park has helped pay for London-and UWO-tied research into MLD (metachromatic leukodystrophy).

Rock the Park has raised more than $1 million for the foundation over the years.

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Boston anticipates  certain magic

By DALE CARRUTHERS, The London Free Press

Boston guitarist Gary Pihl has never been to London, but he has more than a feeling he's going to love playing at Harris Park Saturday.

The 61-year-old musician and his American rock band are headlining the closing night of the three-day Rock the Park festival in London.

While Boston has played hundreds of sold-out stadium shows, Pihl says there's something "special" about playing under the stars on a summer night.

"Outdoor (shows) have a certain magic to them," Pihl said. "There's definitely something special about it. The sound travels further, it just keeps on going."

And Pihl knows a thing or two about good sound; he plays an active role in managing Boston's audio and technical equipment for tours.

Though the acoustics at some outdoor shows can be questionable, concertgoers can expect top-notch sound Saturday.

After all, Boston founder Tom Scholz, a graduate of MIT, invented all of the amplifiers the band is using at Rock the Park.

"We're the only band in the world that uses the amplifier they built," Pihl said. "When something is broken or we're adjusting something, I'm definitely in there . . . helping the crew guys through it."

Boston made a big splash on the music scene in 1976 with the release of their debut self-title album, which went on to become the second-best selling first album of all time in the United States.

But it wasn't until 1985 that Pihl joined the group, after spending eight years playing guitar in a band with Sammy Hagar, who went on to be the frontman for Van Halen.

Boston released five albums during the years, but they're still best-known for hits from their first album like More Than A Feeling, Peace Of Mind, Foreplay/Longtime and Rock And Roll Band.

So what's Pihl's favourite song to play on stage?

"Certainly, we do a song like More Than A Feeling and it's so great to stand there and have the audience singing back louder than the band, so there's nothing better than that," said the Chicago-born rocker, who started playing guitar at age ten.

"But on the other hand, songs like Walk On is very complex and technically difficult to play. It's a long song, so we certainly get a certain satisfaction from playing that well, because again it's not easy. When we pull that one off . . . wow, that's a good feeling."

While some '70s bands are known for their aged audiences, Boston has a fan base ranging from teens to seniors.

Pihl credits rock video games like Guitar Hero for introducing younger generations to Boston's music.

"So we have young kids saying 'We learned about your songs playing this video game and I had to check it out,' " he said. "To see younger fans show up . . . it's real confirmation that the songs stand on their own after all this time."


IF YOU GO

What: OMAC Mortgages Presents Rock The Park 9, a three-day fundraising rock festival for Bethanys Hope Foundation.

When: Thursday to Saturday, gates open at 4 p.m. each day.

Where: Harris Park in downtown London

Details: $63 a night, two-day (Friday and Saturday) passes, $99. Visit rockthepark.ca or call 519-672-1967.


Lineups

Thursday: Slash with Myles Kennedy, Bush co-headline; I Mother Earth, Monster Truck also on bill.

Friday: Steve Miller Band headlines, George Thorogood & The Destroyers, David Wilcox, The Romantics also on bill Saturday: Boston headlines, REO Speedwagon, 54-40, Prism also on bill.

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Show Time Lapse

Pretty cool! Check out this time lapse video that our video guy, Taylor Price, put together. It's the whole show from load-in, set-up, sound check, performance and load-out.

More than a feeling for Boston guitarist

Gary Pihl could be the poster child for why drugs aren't necessarily considered de rigueur in the rock n roll culture.

Pihl's drug-free lifestyle  not to mention his solid guitar licks  set in motion a chain of events that led to the gig of a lifetime. For nearly 30 years, Pihl has been a guitarist with the long-running band Boston.

He earned the spot the old-fashioned way, by working his way up through the ranks as a member of Sammy Hagar's first band, which opened for Boston during its 1978-79 tour.

Pihl had been playing in a band called Stark Raving Mad in the San Francisco Bay area, and they were looking for a new singer. Pihl knew that Hagar had recently left the band Montrose, so he reached out to Hagar to see if he'd be interested in joining Stark Raving Mad.

Thanks, but no thanks, Hagar told Pihl. Hagar was going to put together his own band and he asked Pihl if he was into drugs. Pihl told him he was clean, then wondered why he asked the question.

"Sammy said the last (guitarist) he had was (into drugs) and he was looking for someone who wasn't," Pihl recalls. He offered Pihl a spot in his new band, but Pihl wasn t sure whether to take it.

Just then, Hagar's manager called with some news that couldn't have been timed any better. Boston was looking for an opening for the last two weeks of its first-ever tour, and if Hagar could find a guitarist, the gig was his.

A few weeks later, Pihl was on stage with Hagar opening for Boston, which was watching the new band from the wings.

If hooking up with Hagar was one significant career turning point for Pihl, then befriending Boston founder and technical genius Tom Scholz was another.

Prior to his music career, Scholz had earned bachelors and masters degrees in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Scholz went on to earn 29 patents for products he invented while he was a senior product design engineer for Polaroid.

"The last secret to (Boston s) success is that we all use amplifiers that Tom built," Pihl, 61, explains during a phone call ahead of Boston's Saturday night gig at Trump Taj Mahal. "He had his own company called Scholz Research and Development, and he (invented) the Rockman guitar amplifier. To this day, we re the only band in the world that plays its own amplifiers."