Arrowfest Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, The Woodlands October 14, 2007
Better Than: A Sunday with Matt Schaub, Jesus Christ or mainstream commercial radio.
Download: “Good Girls Don’t” (the Knack); “Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll” (Blue Öyster Cult); “This Ol’ Cowboy” (Marshall Tucker Band); “Jane” (Jefferson Starship); “The Kid Is Hot Tonight” (Loverboy); “Carry On Wayward Son” (Kansas); “Ready for Love” (Bad Company)
This year’s Arrowfest, assembled and sponsored by KKRW-FM, “The Arrow,” had probably the widest variety of bands and styles of its ten-year run. Running times were on or very close to schedule for the mostly 45-minute sets, and an overcast sky kept things cool for the all-day classic rock blowout. Here’s a blow-by-blow, band-by-band rundown:
: The power-poppers, dressed nattily in white shirts and black slacks, had the unenviable task of opening the day at 1 p.m. while many people weren’t even on the road to the Woodlands yet. But those people missed a strong, energetic set that proved people do know more Knack songs than just “My Sharona.” “Oh Tara,” “Frustrated” and “Good Girls Don’t” were full of punchy guitar and jangly harmonies. Lead singer/guitarist Doug Fieger – who had two tumors removed in major brain surgery just three months ago – showed no signs of tiredness while ripping it up on a vintage 1957 Telecaster someone had loaned him for the gig. A rousing version of The Champs’ “Tequila” segued surprisingly into a powerful take on the Doors’ “Break on Through.” A solid start to the day.
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: Though the traditional intro, “On your feet or on your knees for BLUE ÖYSTER CULT!,” was sadly missing, the ankh-loving Long Island band turned in a good set with singer/guitarist Eric Bloom first giving a baseball update while bemoaning the end of his beloved New York Mets (he does favor Cleveland to win the Series). “Cities on Flame with Rock and Roll” kicked off a hit-heavy list which included, of course, “Burnin’ For You,” “Don’t Fear the Reaper” and “Godzilla” (at the start of which Bloom intoned “Is that a Dallas Cowboy coming?”). Bloom and singer/guitarist Buck Dharma were clearly enjoying themselves, and fill-in bassist Rudy Sarzo (ex-Ozzy Osbourne, Quiet Riot) hit the hardest-rocking bass solo I’ve heard. The only misstep was an overlong take on “Shooting Shark,” from BÖC’s unfortunate foray into a more pop sound. At least no one screamed “More cowbell!”
: Ah, pity the poor Southern boys. MTB’s set was clearly the day’s most disappointing, and not just because various technical glitches pissed off singer Doug Gray. The sole member remaining from the classic lineup, Gray growled/drawled/sleptwalk his way through most songs, and didn’t get near the upper range notes on songs like “Fire on the Mountain,” “24 Hours At a Time” and “Can’t You See.” It was funny, though, when he asked the crowd what song they wanted to hear, and – predictably – some wag yelled “Free Bird!” Needless bass and drum solos and crowd singalongs ate up far too much set time, but flautist/sax player David Muse added a lot of rousing spice, and guitarist Chris Hicks took lead vocal on funky new number “Dog Eat Dog World.”
Starship featuring Mickey Thomas: Okay, by this point I was starving and hadn’t even had a beer yet. Not a fan of this oft-renamed group in any of its incarnations, I split for a hot dog and Coors Light for half their set. The rest I saw with friend “Jill on the Hill” and her new paramour. We managed to catch decent versions of “Jane” and “Sara” (sadly, no “Rhiannon” or “Oh, Sherrie”). Singer Thomas is the only member left from the Airplane/Starship crash, and it was ironic that the crowd’s biggest response was to co-vocalist’s Stephanie Calvert’s “White Rabbit/Somebody to Love” medley – two Jefferson Airplane hits not a single person on stage had anything to do with.
Loverboy: The day’s most surprising set came from these Canadians with 80 percent of their classic lineup – bassist Scott Smith was declared missing at sea in 2000 after a giant wave overcame his sailboat. Lead singer Mike Reno is twice the man he used to be – fat men should never wear sleeveless vests – but he had it where it counted, showcasing amazing pipes that have lost none of their pitch or power. The band, including guitarist Paul Dean and drummer Matt Frenette, played louder and faster than you remember from their red-leathered MTV days on “Lucky Ones,” “The Kid is Hot Tonight,” “Hot Girls in Love” and “Turn Me Loose.” The band debuted new ballad “The One That Got Away,” and raucous closer “Working for the Weekend” lacked only Chris Farley and Patrick Swayze doing their Chippendale’s routine.
: If I never hear the electric violin again, I won’t be sorry. Though technically proficient as always, Kansas’ brand of orchestral art/prog rock with its long instrumental passages and intermittent wailing of vocalist Steve Walsh (whose voice still soars) hit like a mish-mashed wall of noise. And frankly, it grew tiresome, perhaps victimized by the band’s spot between two fist-pumping sets. Furthermore, Paul McCartney should sue if he ever hears Kansas’ version of “Eleanor Rigby.” They also waited until fairly late in the set to pull out any big guns, though “Point of Know Return” and “Carry On Wayward Son” carried their anthemic weight.
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Paul Rodgers: A short downpour just before the headlining set sent many on the Woodlands hill for the exit, a shame because Arrowfest saved the best set for last. Former Free/Bad Company frontman Rodgers was headlining for an obvious reason – he’s just as strong now as then, and a real crowd-pleasing showman to boot. With impeccable vocals and a band playing like they had something to prove, Rodgers and his new, good company blasted through an all-killer/no-filler set; highlights included “Rock and Roll Fantasy,” “Feel Like Makin’ Love,” “Bad Company” and “All Right Now.” Even the trite lyrics of “Shooting Star” took on added resonance as the audience bellowed along. New song “Warboys (A Prayer for Peace)” fit right in stylistically, and a cover of Hendrix’s “Angel” was a powerful surprise. Twirling the mike stand, slapping audience hands and occasionally playing stand-up piano, Rodgers showed why he’s a real legend.
Personal Bias: Press Music Editor John Nova Lomax didn’t dub me “Classic Rock Bob” for nothing.
Random Detail: MTB vocalist Doug Gray gave a shout-out to the defunct Rockefeller’s and its patrons for all the times the band played there, immediately causing a small front-row section of middle-aged men with graying ponytails to jump up and wave their fists in appreciation.
By the way: Arrow DJs made onstage appearances throughout the day, and broadcast from a living room setup in the plaza. It was a little jarring seeing the actual faces behind the voices, some of which completely destroyed my mental image. We did get to see side glimpses of morning newswoman’s Suzi Hanks’ famously talked-about breasts, and morning DJ Rog was feeling no pain in the audience during Festival closer “All Right Now,” with a Bud tallboy in one hand and his arms around two women doing a bump ‘n grind. Finally, one last shoutout to Live Nation’s Lauren Ellis for shepherding the media throng all day long while rocking a green tank top and flip-flops. – Bob Ruggiero