Return to Forever
Plain Dealer Pavilion
June 24, 2008
Considering bouts with rain, flooding, high humidity and other anomalies that have marked a typical northeastern Ohio summer, you certainly couldn't have asked for a better evening weather-wise as the iconic fusion group Return to Forever appeared at the Plain Dealer Pavilion. Of course, the diehard fans that filled the venue to capacity would have probably hung in for the long haul regardless of the weather conditions. Although this group spent a short time in the spotlight before disbanding in 1977, they reached the pinnacle of what many considered a perfect blend of rock, funk, and jazz sensibilities. Only reuniting for a one-shot concert in 1983, this summer's tour would be the first for the band in 25 years.
Opening the show with favorites such as "Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy" and "Vulcan Worlds," it was apparent that the audience was filled with those who had more than a casual familiarity with the band's vintage material. This point was not lost on drummer Lenny White when commenting during the one and only conversational break in the show. As he put it, "Other people have hits and everyone knows all the words. With our stuff, you all know all the notes." Stanley Clarke would muse over the fact that it had been 25 years or more since the band had touched these charts, hinting at the challenge they still seemed to provide for everyone.
Still, much of the first set was slow in developing, marked by some aimless noodling by Chick Corea on his arsenal of old school keyboards that included a Fender Rhodes and a Mini Moog. Finally, on "Song to the Pharoah Kings" things started to take shape. Both bassist Stanley Clarke and White got in some solid face time with lengthy solo spots, the latter seated behind a large turquoise drum kit that was set in an odd position on the stage, a fact that was further frustrated by the use of tall acrylic panels alongside his riser. With all the histrionics of your typical rock guitarist, Clarke threw in everything from windmills to funky snaps and slaps.
The second set struck a far more disparate stance and was all the more satisfying as a result. Guitarist Al DiMeola showed off his chops early in the set, followed by Chick's rhapsody on acoustic piano that included "Sometime Ago." This spot then morphed into a trio performance of "Green Dolphin Street" with Clarke on acoustic bass. "Romantic Warrior" was the place to pull out all the stops as Clarke slapped the strings of his bass furiously and White stretched out with a melodic solo that boasted thundering low notes, courtesy of his three large floor toms.
"Duel of the Jester and the Tyrant" provided a high-octane encore to wrap up the evening, although one couldn't help to ponder the success of efforts made to recreate music that is so squarely deadlocked within a specific time period and era. But despite the mixed results, the evening's two generous sets provided an entertaining forum for several of the music's most accomplished musicians.