Roots Report: Grand Funk Railroad at Twin River

Okee dokee folks… I went to see Grand Funk Railroad and former Eagles member Don Felder at Twin River last Friday night. These are my thoughts on the show.

First of all, we were a bit late for the show. All week I had been thinking, “How are they going to squeeze two acts into the short timeframe that they usually have allotted for concerts at Twin River?” Well, the answer to my thoughts was that the show started at 7pm and I had forgotten to even check. So we missed Don Felder’s first few songs.

When we arrived, Don Felder was already halfway through “Peaceful Easy Feeling.” I have to admit that I did not have high expectations for Don Felder’s set. I was curious as to what he was going to do. I watched the three and one half hour History Of The Eagles documentary a few times and have almost committed it all to memory. What I garnered from it was that Felder was bounced from the Eagles, Don Henley and Glen Frey didn’t really have positive things to say about him and that basically his main contribution to the band was that he was just a lead guitarist. Felder didn’t really have a booming solo career so I thought that he would just play just a very short set. I was wrong.

From what I was able to ascertain from the woman sitting next to me, Felder had already played about five songs before we arrived. Those songs included “One Of These Nights,” Already Gone” and the odd selection of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Pride and Joy.” Felder had a four-piece backing band — guitar, bass, drums, keys. Their sound was surprisingly similar to the Eagles. I liked it. Felder turned the vocals over to his bass player — just like Randy Meisner — and he sang “Take It To The Limit.” Honestly I did not care for his voice. He handled the notes well, but he had one of those countrified voices that didn’t fit the song. From there they went into “Tequila Sunrise” and then to what Felder described as a song that the Eagles used to use as a vocal warm-up: “Seven Bridges Road.” He did a lot of band name dropping introducing his backing band. The lot of them have been part of bands/backing bands such as Toto, CSN, White Snake, Stevie Nicks, Kid Rock, Tanya Tukcer, David Gilmore and others. He and his side guitarist took to their talk boxes and squawked into “Those Shoes.” He intro-ed the next number as one he wrote for an animated movie. That song was “Heavy Metal.” For the next one he said, “This is dedicated to every woman in the crowd who never had a song dedicated to them before.” “Witchy Woman” was that song.  He riled up the crowd by asking, “Does anyone want to party, does anyone want to dance?” “Heartache Tonight” and “Life In The Fast Lane” satisfied those who screamed, “Yes!” Those songs closed the set. Steady applause brought them back out to perform “Take It Easy.” He then strapped on his white double-neck Gibson and asked, “Do you recognize this guitar? You must know what’s coming!” The 12-string chords of “Hotel California” chimed and that song closed out the evening.

I have to say that I totally enjoyed Felder’s set despite his weakness as a front man. Felder’s strong point is his guitar playing. His voice sounds a bit like Don Henley with a cold. It is weak, heavily processed and buried in the mix. He leads what could possibly be the best Eagles’ TRIBUTE band, which is fine. I love the Eagles and to hear their music performed live with a former member in the mix is great. Their harmonies were top notch and rivaled the original. At this point I just appreciated hearing the Eagles’ songs and this band did a great overall job of presenting them.

After about a half an hour, Grand Funk Railroad took the stage with a big arena sound and a driving beat from Mel Schacher’s bass guitar that you could feel thumping in your chest. They pounded through heavy songs like “Bottle Rocket,” “Rock and Roll Soul” and “Shinin’ On.” They moved onto their chart topping hit of “Locomotion.” From there the set took an odd turn. “A Heart Needs A Second Chance” followed. This is a song that was originally done by .38 Special, sung and co-written by Max Carl who was a .38 Special member then and is currently the lead singer of Grand Funk. It seemed an odd choice and understandable, but it just did not fit the night. From there, drummer Don Brewer went into a drum solo, which extended into another percussion based song, “Devil’s Daughter,” where all members played a drum. It was way too much drumming for much too long. Guitarist Bruce Kulick slid into a solo of “The Star Spangled Banner” a la Jimi Hendrix. “Inside Looking Out” followed. “Some Kind Of Wonderful” had Don Brewer out front on lead vocals and banging his drum sticks together. Tim Cashion played the intro on organ for “I’m Your Captain (Closer to Home)” and the audience filled in on the choruses with “I’m getting closer to my home.” Finally Brewer jumped out front again wearing an Uncle Sam American Flag top hat and screamed, “God Bless America … we’re an American Band,” and closed the night with that hit.

Grand Funk Railroad was originally a trio that had a Detroit City Soul sound. They are now a five-piece with only two of the original members. They are carrying on, but their sound is suffering from the missing Mark Farner. He was the charismatic and energetic lead singer. For the most part the show was enjoyable, but it was weak. When hits like “Walk Like A Man” and “Bad Time” are not performed, but a lite radio format song like “A Heart Needs A Second Chance” is, something is wrong. I was disappointed with this choice. Musically the band is tight but the program is flawed. The night really could have done without the lengthy drum solo, too. Maybe, someday, before it’s too late, Grand Funk Railroad can regroup with the original members while they are still alive and make amends for what has happened to the band.

That’s it for now. Thanks for reading.

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