Some music heads insist that in the original powerpop sweepstakes, Eric Carmen and friends topped Badfinger, Todd Rundgren, and (gasp!) Big Star themselves. Either way, the Raspberries were just your average Midwest four-hit wonders in matching white pre-disco suits, updating Brit Invasion melodies, Spector booms, and Wilson brothers sing-alongs with touches of hard rock and Rachmaninoff. After they gave up the ghost in ’75, the ‘Berries garnered cheerleaders like Bruce, Axl, and Kurt, while Carmen mopped up MOR gold.
Following a false start in 1999, the original quartet (Carmen, drummer Jim Bonfanti, guitarist Wally Bryson, bassist Dave Smalley) took the reunion plunge last year, keeping their tour schedule modest and wisely planning a one-day-at-a-time future.
With a little help from their backing-band friends the Overdubs adding up to six-part harmonies and three to four guitars, the Raspberries time-warped back three (and four) decades last week, re-creating their sound for a packed-house boomer contingent at B.B. King’s. A nostalgic video montage, Bryson plucking an ol’-style Rickenbacker and twin-neck guitar, audience handclap participation, and a revival of the lost art of bridges bolstered the vintage atmosphere. And even though a buff-looking Carmen was clearly the big kahuna, Smalley got a generous turn at the mic for his cute wit and some Burrito Brothers-like country rock from the debut album.
But the real rally points came in the middle, with uptempo favorites like “If You Change Your Mind,” Bryson’s “Party’s Over,” and “Overnight Sensation,” where Carmen followed his immor(t)al line “I’m not in it for the money” with “OBVIOUSLY!” At show’s end, they blazed (and Carmen screamed) into the almost-metal “I Don’t Know What I Want” before coming back for an encore of covers of songs the Beatles used to cover (“Twist and Shout,” “Please Mr. Postman”), building toward the inevitable but still mind-blowing climax of “Go All the Way.” If Sir Paul had a real sense of history, he’d hook up with these real fans-as-musicians instead of Bono and friends.