Tuesday, 20 August 2013

First concert: Boston, Fall 1988, Northlands Coliseum

The cover for Boston's self-titled debut album,
featuring "More Than a Feeling", and "Peace of Mind".
It was a dream come true, something I never dreamed possible when I was sitting in my bedroom with the headphones on late at night listening to Boston on tape. In the fall of 1988, just a couple months into my second year of university, I saw Boston live in concert at the Northlands Coliseum in Edmonton.

The seed
My love for Boston came pretty quickly. At the end of Grade 11, I started hanging out with a classmate named Randy. He was a year older than me, as was everyone in my class, and he had a car – and a stereo. And, his mom loved music. One day, he came to school with a tape he made from his mom’s collection. We listened to it while we cruised the streets of Coaldale after class. Two songs I distinctly remember being on that tape were “Dream Weaver” by Gary Wright, and “More than a Feeling” by Boston. That summer, we went to visit my brother in Calgary. He always said I could record any of his music, and the man had tons of vinyl. One of the albums was Boston’s debut album, which contained “More than a Feeling”. He recorded that album on tape for me, and I never tired of listening to it. Little did I know, there was more to come.

The Third Stage
Grade 12 was maybe a month old, when I was listening to LA-107 FM, and they advertised their next album highlight. Every week night, the album-oriented radio station played a few songs and provided a bit of history on a new record that had just come out. That night’s album highlight was “The Third Stage” by Boston. I had something else going at 7 p.m., so I actually set my ghetto blaster to record the album highlight. It was the best decision I ever made.

I didn’t listen to the tape until it was time for bed that night. I put on my headphones and got my first real introduction to Boston.

Since then, I have listened to that tape so often, I can pretty much recite the intro to that album highlight: "They were a pretty hot band in the 70's then kind of faded away. Now Boston's back with 'Third Stages'". I distinctly recall the deejay getting the name of the album wrong.

Then the slow intro to "Can'tcha Say" began and I was hooked. "Holly Ann" followed, then "Amanda", which was the first single they had released.

The deejay came back on and gave some history on the band, especially guitar player and band leader Tom Scholz. He was an engineer who experimented with sound. He invented a machine called a "Rockman" which was described as a pocket amplifier that a guitar plugged into, and its sound was evident throughout the album. Other artists, such as Berlin, would use the "Rockman" as well. A broken tone bender was also used in one song to create a distinctive sound.

After their debut album, which sat on the charts almost two years, they put out "Don't Look Back", a follow-up album that also charted well. Then, Scholz got into some legal problems, and did not fulfill his contract for another album. Consequently, some of the songs were more than a decade in the making, as the deejay referred to the notes to the album.

The version of Boston that produced the "Third Stage" album was completely different from the 1970s version of the band. The only holdovers were Scholz, and lead singer Brad Delp. His voice gave Boston the same vocal sound as we all heard on their first two albums. Gone were Barry Goudreau, Sib Hashian, and Fran Sheehan, although the last two were credited on the album.

The original lineup for Boston, which was long gone by 1986.
From left are Barry Goudreau, Tom Scholz, Sib Hashian,
Brad Delp, and Fran Sheehan.
That album highlight concluded with another song, "I Think I Like it". When the deejay introduced it, he said it was "To Be a Man". I guess he probably never checked the script against he songs.

I must have played that recording more than a hundred times. Eventually I bought the "Third Stage" record through Columbia House and my sister dubbed it onto a blank tape for me.

In Social 30, my teacher Mr. Vuch used to talk about music. One day he mentioned an article he read in Time magazine on Tom Scholz. I told him I had become a big fan, so he made me a photocopy. It was only a one-page article, but recounted how Scholz was an engineer who never let stardom affect him. He still lived in the same small, old brick house in Boston, and drove the same old Volvo.

By the late fall of 1986, "Amanda" caught fire and shot up to the top of charts where it stayed for two weeks. The album climbed the charts too, reaching and staying at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 for four weeks.

The second single, "We're Ready" also charted, peaking at number nine, but there was no more top 10 success. They released "Can'tcha Say" and it peaked at number 20. I was surprised because I loved that song.

In concert
Boston remained in my listening rotation when I headed off to university in Edmonton in the fall of 1987, but they there was no follow-up singles or album, so they fell off my radar.

Then, in the fall of 1988, my second year of university, I heard they were coming to Edmonton. They would be making their first tour ever into Western Canada, and the Northlands Coliseum was one of the stops.

The problem was that I had no credit card, therefore little chance of getting a ticket. Besides I wasn't sure I had anyone to go with. And I didn't know what to do. I had never been to a concert – ever.

Enter a girl on my floor, Peg from Peterborough. She loved Boston and did all the work, getting tickets for me, her, and her boyfriend, which actually changed between the time she bought the tickets and we were riding the LRT to the concert.

When we got there, I experienced another first. I bought a concert shirt. It was black and had the same drawing as appeared on their first album cover.

The concert was awesome. Scholz came out, sporting a huge knee brace, limiting his mobility. He basically just stood there and played. That was fine by me, but critics panned his performance the next day. The Edmonton Sun headline was "Less than a feeling". I was enraged.

Anyway, Boston did just what I wanted: they played all the songs I liked – except "Holly Ann".

They left the stage for the obligatory encore. I hooped and hollered. Peg and Greg ran down to the concert floor (we were in the first row of seats behind one of the players' benches). All of a sudden the band returned – and they played "Holly Ann".

Then, I found myself alone. All the people who had been sitting around us disappeared. Scholz went into the solo at the end of the song, and played right along on my air guitar. He looked in my direction and I pointed at him. I swear he pointed right back at me. I swear.

Parting thoughts
You always remember your first. Considering Boston had never come to Western Canada, and I never thought they would, they were the best band to be the first I saw in concert.

In high school I was profoundly affected by Tom Scholz. He seemed like a nerd who had made good, and I had always felt like a nerd. Here was an engineer who was not only rocking out, but sitting on the top of the charts. He never sold out, or played by the rules set out by heartless recording companies. Instead, he seemed to stay true to his vision and I always admired that.

And Brad Delp's vocals are amazing. "Amanda" remains one of my top ten favourite songs, and it is his voice as much as everything else in that song. Sadly, Brad Delp committed suicide in 2007, and it was a waste, a sad ending to a life that entertained, and even inspired, a generation.

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