Friday’s storms were to blame for an anomaly in the space-time continuum whereby anyone in the vicinity of Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica were hurled back in time three decades, to an era where Pac-Man and Rubik’s Cube dominated your leisure hours.
An alternate theory is that the tripartite concert a the riverside venue featuring Rick Springfield, Loverboy, and Donnie Iris & The Cruisers cast a spell over the some 3,000 onlookers in attendance, imbuing them with an overwhelming sense of nostalgia for their younger years.
Fresh off his appearance in the Meryl Streep film Ricki and The Flash, Springfield thrilled fans with ninety minutes of guitar rock that dodged his ‘70s pinup boy albums (Comic Book Heroes, Mirror Magic) in favor of his Working Class Dog hits—and a couple new zingers.
“Ah, Cleveland!” greeted the General Hospital alumnus. “There’s no better place to celebrate a spiritual victory over 9/11!”
Opening with a rambunctious “Light This Party Up” (from the forthcoming album Rocket Science) and the Sammy Hagar-written kiss-off “I’ve Done Everything for You,” the black-clad Aussie heartthrob had the audience eating out of his hand.
“I Get Excited” saw Springfield accept a dozen roses from an admirer down front—and promptly windmill it across his guitar strings like Pete Townshend, sending petals flying.
He’d shred another five or six bouquets later. It’s a familiar gimmick to Rick fans, but always an effective visual.
Springfield had plenty of those up his sleeves Friday. Between the lively light show, Technicolor video backdrop, and amusing episodes of crowd participation, this “Affair of the Heart” offered lots of eye candy along with the sonic sweetener.
Coauthored by Jay Demarcus of Rascal Flatts, “Down” maintained the frenetic pace, and the band’s cover of Katy Perry’s “Roar” sounded surprisingly tough and masculine. “Our Ship’s Sinking” was a welcome treat from 2012’s Songs for The End of The World, and “Love Is Alright Tonight” was post-scripted by a few measures of Ventures-like surf guitar noodling—which in turned segued into The Troggs’ “Wild Thing.”
A halftime medley featured a mash-up of several minor (but no less catchy) Springfield hits from Success Hasn’t Spoiled Me Yet (1982), Hard to Hold (1984), and Tao (1985), with the snippets of “Bop Til You Drop,” “Celebrate Youth,” “Calling All Girls,” “Don’t Walk Away,” and “State of The Heart” all accompanied by throwback scenes from their respective MTV videos.
“Don’t Talk to Strangers” dispatched Springfield into the audience in search of singing partners. He had to coax a shy Sandra into reciting the chorus (and she did, in tune no less) but 10-year old Ted didn’t need his arm twisted to accompany Rick onstage for a quick shuffle.
Then it was right back into the aisles—literally—for “Human Touch,” whereon Springfield high-stepped his way through over seats to give hugs and high-fives to a few awestricken revelers. “Love Somebody” brought him back onstage (sans black overcoat) to wrap the main set.
Naturally, Rick and friends returned for a jubilant “Jessie’s Girl” encore. The familiar verses and chorus prompted mass dancing, singing, and iPhone-filming.
“Play it again,” instructed Arnold Schwarzenegger, in a funny video segment.
“Dude, I just played that song like ten times,” Springfield protested.
“Play it again,” deadpanned the former governor, in his no-nonsense Terminator voice.
Springfield was charismatic as ever, and he remains committed to giving ticket buyers every penny’s worth of fun. A physical performer, he switched his custom guitars out after almost every song, dueled with lead guitarist George Bernhardt, and prowled the perimeter to visit with bassist George Nastos and keyboardist Tim Gross.
Rick’s energy and enthusiasm were shared by drummer Jorge Palacios, who could be seen smiling and laughing the whole time. The percussionist’s passion was infectious; you’d think he’d been waiting his entire life to play a Rick Springfield gig in the Rock and Roll capital of the world.
The freighter American Courage was one of several vessels maneuvering ‘round the Cuyahoga River bend during the concert—a fitting appearance on so solemn a day in history.
We knew Donnie Iris would deliver a knockout opening set, having caught his act a few times (most recently at the Hard Rock in Northfield last winter). The Pittsburgh native warmed up the chilly, damp pavilion crowd with his capable Cruisers, barreling through deep tracks from the early ‘80s efforts King Cool and Back on The Streets (“Agnes,” “Do You Compute,” “That’s The Way Love Ought to Be”) as the Lake Erie rain continued outside.
Clad in just a Hello Cleveland T-shirt and cargo shorts, Iris must’ve been cold. If so, the bespectacled bawler didn’t let on, jumping to the heavy beats and conferring with Les Paul guitarist Marty Lee Hoenes and five-string bassist Paul Goll (who flushed the mix with harmony vocals). Iris can still hit his trademark high notes, too, his voice becoming a raspy howl in the upper registers.
Meanwhile, Cleveland keyboardist / band attorney Mark Avsec kept things pumping on keyboards. He decorated “Sweet Merilee” with a zesty piano solo, and bolstered Iris’ dense refrains with strategically-timed chord thrusts.
Iris sent the defiant “I Can’t Hear You” out to employers and other boors who “give people a hard time, all the time.” Both Avsec and Iris strapped on guitars for the crunchy “Love Is Like a Rock,” whose multilayered hook was taken up by the audience (and repeated in call-and-response fashion). Signature Cruisers hit “Ah! Leah” was propulsive and lush, and boasted a crackling guitar solo by Hoenes.
Iris tapped his early days with The Jaggerz for finale “The Rapper,” which veered into a run through Deep Purple’s “Hush.” Avsec pounded and swiped the keys of a vintage organ (with oscillating speaker) a la Jon Lord, lending added funk and sass to the performance.
The evening’s real surprise was Canadian quintet Loverboy, who stormed the Billboard charts in the early ‘80s with the popular albums Keep It Up and Get Lucky. We enjoyed the group’s FM radio hits in grade school, but never witnessed the band live in concert (unlike Springfield and Iris). So we weren’t sure what to expect.
But Loverboy killed it.
Still helmed by vocalist Mike Reno (of “Almost Paradise” fame), the group brought Nautica attendees to their feet as night fell with a bawdy “Notorious,” exuberant “Lucky Ones,” and bristling “Queen of the Broken Hearts.”
Rocking a headband, aviator shades, and cutoff vest, Reno was quite capable of reaching his heavenly high notes on “Take Me to The Top” and “The Kid is Hot Tonight.” Unlike most pop stars, he was very deliberate in his execution, carefully drawing big breaths and bracing himself for trickier passages (not unlike an opera singer). The dude really seemed to care about doing a good job, and it showed.
But Reno went the heavy metal route, too, upending his mic stand and pumping his fists in the air.
Along with Reno, Loverboy features all its longtime members, save Scott Smith—who passed away fifteen years ago. Paul Dean cooked on lead guitar and Ken “Spider” Sinnaeve thrummed a Zon bass. Matt Frenette occupied the drum riser above Reno, doling out rough boy rhythms on “Lovin’ Every Minute of It” as fans chanted along. Doug Johnson was a whiz on keyboards, anointing the tracks with the lush synth chords and riffs heard on Loverboy’s vinyl records (and cassettes). Johnson wailed on harmonica and saxophone, too.
The guys climaxed with a menacing “Turn Me Loose,” then brought down the house with blue collar anthem “Working for the Weekend.”
It was a terrific night of music despite the weather, and we’d be hard-pressed to design a better ‘80s three-pack.