CD Review: New England Live at The Regent Theatre

It's not everyday one gets to review the live-CD release, of a show that they actually attended. In this case, however, I was lucky enough to be sitting in the second row for a show performed in August of 2014, by the classic AOR band, ("album orientated rock") New England, at the elegant Regent Theatre in the Boston suburb of Arlington, Massachusetts. However, what made this particular show even more special, was that New England was performing on that night, their first full-on concert together since 1983.

Review and photos by Joe Milliken

Featuring front-man John Fannon on guitar and lead vocals, Jimmy Waldo on keyboards and vocals, Hirsh Gardner on drums and vocals, and Gary Shea on bass and vocals, New England originally burst onto the rock music scene in 1978, with a self-titled album and a Top 40 hit, “Don't Ever Wanna Lose Ya.” The sudden success spurred tours all over North America, opening shows for such high-profile bands of the day as Kiss, Rush, Boston and Styx.

Fast-forward some 31 years after their last performance, the original New England reunited for this special show. In fact, people came from all over the world for the performance, including fans across America, and as far away as Japan. Of course, the die-hard fans in attendance welcomed the band with open arms and a standing ovation from the get-go, as the foursome got this long-awaited reunion rockin' right out of the chute with the driving “Seal It With A Kiss,” and “L-5,” (co-written with Todd Rundgren) and the grand “Hello Hello Hello,” the song which opens the classic debut release. The enthusiastic audience roared their approval.

Over the next two-hour set, New England sounded tight and in the groove, delving into songs which spanned all three of their releases; 1979's self-titled, 1980's Explorer Suite and 1981's Walking Wild. The melodic-pop sheen of “Alone Tonight” and “Shoot” was pristine, with the latter evoking a Bowie-esque vibe, before the mighty-drummer-Gardner decided to blow it all to smithereens during the intro to the down-and-dirty rocker, “Holdin' Out On Me."

Next, the band completely shifted gears by sitting down, center-stage, to perform beautiful, acoustic versions of fan favorites “Conversation,” “Shall I Run Away,” and “Turn Out The Light,” before kicking it right back into high-gear with “Honey Money,” and then New England's epic, “Explorer Suite,” an atmospheric rocker that surely captivated the audience with it's adventurous, harmonic vocals and colorful synthesizer flourishes.

The surprise of the night was the melodic “I Know There's Something Here,” a brand new song featuring New England's signature vocal harmonies, and judging by the crowd reaction, is destined to become another fan-favorite moving forward. The anthem “Hope,” featured punctuating bass lines from Gary Shea, innovative keyboard flourishes from Jimmy Waldo, and a couple soaring guitar solos from Fannon, before the straight-up rocker, “Nothing To Fear,” (from the Explorer Suite album) had the fans on their feet and wanting more. (Literally... 'cause remember, I was there)

The fans remained on their feet for a much-anticipated encore, as the front-man, Fannon, told a story of the band opening for the legendary Kiss during their 1979 Dynasty tour, in front of a packed Montreal Forum when New England had a Top 5 smash hit in Canada! That hit was "Don't Ever Wanna Lose Ya'," which brought the house down at the Regent on this night.

Wonderful rock-and-roll memories, indeed, as the final song featured the piano ballad “You'll Be Born Again,” a fitting end to a show that revealed a genuine, crowd reaction of both excitement and appreciation throughout. Yes, these die-hard New England fans were fully aware of the magnitude of this long-awaited reunion. Of course, the band returned the appreciation by coming out after the gig for a meet-and-greet, full of autographs and photo ops for all to share.

It also must be noted that opening the show was another favored-son, and Boston-guitar-god, Jon Butcher, with his trio performing a cool, eight-song acoustic performance to set the night in motion. Originally fronting the Jon Butcher Axis in the early 80's, Butcher wow'ed the audience with his amazing picking and smooth vocal stylings, including favorites “Holy War,” “It's Only Words,” “If Wishes Were Horses,” and an amazing set-closing cover of the Hendrix classic “Foxy Lady.”

What a great night filled with classic rock music from Boston-area legends...and what else is great? I get to accompany this review with a couple photos that I took at the show, happily documenting this wonderful event.