LEWISTON – Sold Out! Those were the words that appeared on signs scattered all over Artpark and beyond. If folks wanted to attend Tuesday’s Bad Company show in Lewiston and they weren’t canny enough to get their tickets ahead of time, they were going to be disappointed.
For the thousands crowding the amphitheater, the surrounding hillsides and the parking lots around Artpark, the only uncertainty remaining was how to maintain a physical cool. Umbrellas shaded heads, anything that could be used as a fan was used, and multitudes of cooling beverages were consumed.
The Billy Spanton Band (a.k.a. Billy Spanton and the Ramblin’ Train) opened the show and quickly ran through a batch of towels used to wipe their wetted brows.
Bad Company began their set in a sea of cooling smoke courtesy of dry ice clouds pouring over the stage.
When you get right down to it, however, the weather was a secondary condition for most of the attendees. The music, an auditory visit down memory lane to the days when the tunes they were primed to hear were current, was the primary attraction. Luckily, the music was just as tight, the musicians just as focused and the riff-filled song structures just as catchy in the 21st century as they were in the last one.
Paul Rodgers, Bad Company’s lead singer, was one of the finest rock song stylists of the Twentieth Century, and his “pipes” are still among the best on tour. It’s a gruff, burr-edged instrument that has held up pretty well from his early days, and he still commands the stage by virtue of the sheer physicality implied by his voice.
Guitarist Mick Ralphs and drummer Simon Kirke are the only other original members of the group, and the founding trio is augmented by the superlative guitarist/mandolin player Howard Leese and their new bassist, Todd Roning.
From the moment the guys stepped on the stage seconds after the dying recorded chords of Booker T & the M.G.’s “Green Onions” slipped away, the hit parade began. There was “Rock and Roll Fantasy” (complete with an impromptu audience sing-a-long on the chorus), “Burning Sky,” “Running with the Pack” (wherein Rodgers proved he could play piano, too), and the incredibly taut guitar riffs of “Feel Like Makin’ Love.”
In a nice touch that may or may not have been noticed by the audience, a shout out dedication of “Gone, Gone, Gone” went to the song’s composer “Boz” Burrell, the now deceased (as of 2006) original bassist for the band.
Spanton, a talented guitarist and singer, was a fortuitous choice for an opener. At one time he played and sang with Straight Shooter, a Bad Company Tribute Band, where he managed to catch the ear of Simon Kirke, who encouraged him and undoubtedly helped Spanton get his slot on this tour.
Most of the material in Spanton’s set came from his “Long, Long Road,” including the title tune where his slide guitar playing came to the fore. After whipping through a batch of crunchy sounding, guitar driven tunes, the band did a very credible version of the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter,” featuring a solid take by backup vocalist Katerina Pereyra of Merry Clayton’s original (and spectacular) wail on that song’s chorus.