The Choir Reaffirms Its Significance with Two Sold-Out Shows at the Beachland

Concert Review

click to enlarge NANCY WASEN
Nancy Wasen
How and why would the Choir, a 1960s one-hit wonder local band, sell out the Beachland Ballroom for two consecutive nights, months in advance? For starters, the Choir’s “It’s Cold Outside” is a landmark classic of 1966 Nuggets garage rock singles.

Named the Mods before their record deal, the Choir was a UK-rock-inspired revolving door of important Cleveland rock musicians from 1964 to 1970 with drummer Jim Bonfanti the only constant member. The Choir also had key connections to one of the internationally cult-est of Cleveland’s cult bands, the Raspberries. An early Choir inspired Eric Carmen to make music, and the Raspberries’ lineup was populated with Choir alumni, including Bonfanti.

Also, part of the Choir’s ongoing appeal is the way they locally reflected how British rock bands like the Kinks were evolving from straight-up guitar rock to more complex, eclectic sounds. The Choir of 1968/1969 incorporated non-rock genres along with a psychedelic sensibility teetering on the precipice of prog rock.

Two sold-out shows that took place this past Saturday and Sunday at the Beachland Ballroom reaffirmed the band's significance.

Early in Saturday's set, the band established they wouldn’t be performing “It’s Cold Outside,” as it belonged to the 1966 garage-y Choir incarnation, who played a one-night “40th Anniversary” show at the Beachland back in 2006. Earlier this year, the L.A.-based Omnivore Recordings released for a the first time a terrific lost 1968-recorded Choir album, Artifact. To celebrate the release’s warm response, all five Choir boys who played on the album reunited to perform together for the first time in years. The lineup featured Bonfanti on drums with Ken Margolis and Phil Giallombardo on keyboards, Randy Klawon on guitar and Denny Carleton on bass. These guys, along with two female backing vocalists, nailed the instrumentation and vocals with relentlessly rockin’ energy and proficiency. The crowd ate it up.

This weekend’s sets followed 1960s custom of original material (the Artifact songs) plus favorite cover tunes. Procol Harum was a primary influence on the 1968 Choir, and no less than five Procol Harum covers were among the 20 total songs performed. Procol Harum’s piano-plus-organ sound was central to the 1968 Choir’s aesthetic. The only disappointment of the evening was that the band wimped out with electronic keyboards to avoid the hassle of lining up and setting up a proper acoustic piano and a vintage Hammond organ with Leslie speakers.

Jeff Soukup opened the show with a set of original, nicely composed/executed bluesy acoustic guitar pop. Co-openers Abbey Rodeo delivered impressive covers of sophisticated, catchy, mostly 1960s rock with Bonfanti on drums. His effortless, thundering Keith Moon channeling on “I Can See For Miles” was particularly awesome.
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