Amid the overflowing waters of north central Pennsylvania, my wife and I took advantage of some free tickets that I had won on Facebook and ventured up to Penn’s Peak (in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania) for what was touted as “The British Invasion Show.” It headlined The Yardbirds, with special guest Badfinger Starring Joey Molland. Due to the weather, the 1,800-seat venue wasn’t close to being filled, with only about 400 chairs set up and only about people attending.
“The Doctor” from Penn’s Peak Radio came out to open the show, and after a long list of announcements of upcoming events, completely forgot to introduce Badfinger. No one came out later to introduce the Yardbirds, either. Even Joey Molland seemed a tad confused with that. It didn’t really affect the show, as Badfinger started right into “Baby Blue” and an excellent show was off and running.
I know there’s been a lot of press about the problems and tragedies within the original Badfinger, but none of that came through this show. Joey Molland was an original member as of the first album, so as far as I’m concerned, he can lead a band with that name. He actually seemed to want to be up there playing, and the whole group seemed to be actually having fun, a virtual rarity in today’s business-driven music landscape. I’ve always thought that “fun” equals “good rock ‘n’ roll” and it was definitely the case tonight.
The entire band was pretty laid back, and Joey would introduce a lot of the songs with a little bit of history; After all, Badfinger was groomed by Paul McCartney and the Beatles at Apple Records. This is the closest most of the folks around here will ever get to that sort of legendry. The band was very harmonious and everyone except the drummer took a turn on lead vocals at one point or another. All of their major hits were played at one point or another, though I would like to have heard “Rock of All Ages” or “Carry on Till Tomorrow” in the set. What was really notable was that this was the first opening act I’d ever seen at Penn’s Peak that came back for an encore, playing two more tunes, including “No Matter What.” The whole performance had a good vibe, with some great tunes. I’ll definitely have no trouble paying to see Badfinger the next time they swing by this area.
Let’s see ... what can I say about the Yardbirds? I suppose they really had a lot to live up to, considering the talent that worked their way through the group: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. But I have to admit that I was never a fan of any of those particular guitarists, I wasn't influenced by that lineage. The particular line-up at this concert only barely made it past the criteria I have for calling a band by a classic name, since the only original members present were drummer Jim McCarty and rhythm guitarist Chris Dreja. My wife actually thought they were some kind of warm-up band when they took the stage. The same positive group dynamic that Badfinger had fifteen minutes earlier wasn’t there with the Yardbirds. Here was a band that really seemed to be using a name to get a paycheck and nothing else.
The set list was fairly good, performing most of the Yardbirds’ big hits, like “Heart Full of Soul,” “For Your Love,” and “The Shape of Things.” One problem for me was that, while Andy Mitchell is an excellent vocalist, I really don’t think his voice was suited to most of this material. His stand-out moment was his rendition of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning.” He also managed a passable version of “For Your Love,” but most of the other tunes were lacking ... something. A good number of tunes were played off the "Little Games" album, including "Glimpses," a psychedlic number that just didn't come off well with Mitchell's vocal register. And it was considerably dated; Mitchell noted that the song hadn't been performed in concert before ... there's a reason for that.
Lead guitarist Ben King does a good Clapton imitation. But that’s about all it was. Chris Dreja spent most of the show looking like he was frightened of coming too near his band mates, scared of his guitar, and completely terrified of the microphone (unless he was attempting to rap with the audience). I have to say that they did close the show with a fantastic version of “Dazed and Confused,” but the encore of “I’m a Man” was really uninspiring.
This incarnation of the Yardbirds is definitely a bar band and little more, but Joey Molland's Badfinger still has the chops and the verve to be a starring act. Badfinger made this concert into an old-fashioned rock show, and it's too bad that they weren't billed as the headline act.