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REVIEW: Little River Band and Transit Authority’s Tributes to Fondly Remembered Hits (Buck Hill)

A promotional photo for Little River Band, which performed at Buck Hill in Burnsville, MN on July 13, 2018.

The opening act of last evening’s concert at Buck Hill was “Transit Authority – Tribute to Chicago.” (For those of us old enough to remember, the band Chicago’s original full name was “Chicago Transit Authority.”) This Transit Authority is an eight-man group, founded by drummer Tim Ellis and based out of St. Paul, that has been playing the band Chicago’s hits since 2004.

Transit Authority focused more on Chicago’s earlier albums, including the songs “Free” and “I’m a Man” (previously a hit for the Spencer Davis Group), but also the better-known singles like “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?”, “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day”, “Saturday in the Park”, and “25 or 6 to 4”. Transit Authority captured the heavy horn sound of early Chicago, with the help of Tom Tange on trumpet and flugelhorn, Scott Johnson on saxophone and flute, and Alan Lecher on Trombone. Lead singer Barry Patrick, with help from other band members, did not always match perfectly the vocal sound of the originals – a tough challenge at the best of times, especially for “Wishing You Were Here,” where Chicago’s version had background vocals by three members of the Beach Boys. However, overall, the tribute to Chicago was received enthusiastically, by a large audience happy to sing along to old favorites.

The featured act for the evening was Little River Band (LRB), a group formed in 1975 that was one of the first Australian musical acts to break through in the United States. They had six songs in the Top 10 between 1978 and 1982. However, internal tensions led first to the band members recording separately for the group’s albums, and then to band members quitting or being forced out. (If you’re trying to follow LRB’s lineup changes, start here.) By 1991, none of the original musicians in LRB were left in the lineup. However, the (remaining replacements) continued to tour and record under the LRB name.

This isn’t to say that lineup changes for long-running groups are unusual. The Rolling Stones may still have Mick and Keith, and ZZ Top may still be touring with its long-standing trio, but those who go to see Journey, Styx, REO Speedwagon, Chicago, the Allman Brothers, or almost any other group from that era, know not to expect anything like the group’s original lineup. LRB’s current lineup has Wayne Nelson on lead vocals and bass, Chris Marion on keyboards and vocals, Rich Herring on lead guitar and vocals, Ryan Ricks on percussion and vocals, and Colin Whinnery on guitar and vocals.

The crowd came to hear LRB’s hits, and the band did not disappoint: starting with “It’s a Long Way There” and including “Happy Anniversary”, “Take It Easy on Me”, “Reminiscing”, “Help Is On It’s Way”, “Night Owl”, “Cool Change”, “Lonesome Loser”, and “Lady”. A cynic might say that with an entirely different lineup, the current LRB is as much a tribute band (the intellectual property question of who “owns” the name of the band aside) as Transit Authority. However, LRB did a better job of approximating the sound of the albums – in particular, the sweet mixture of voices that made LRB popular 40 years ago. And because LRB is not a tribute band, it could do two things that a group like Transit Authority could not. First, it could play newer music, in this case two songs from a 2013 album Cuts Like a Diamond: “The Lost and the Lonely” and “I’m an Island”. Second, it could venture some creativity in presenting the songs, like offering a slightly funkier, more syncopated “Reminiscing”.

The audience was all in from the start, many standing throughout the concert. On a couple of songs, LRB had the audience sing part of the chorus or an opening verse, Even when not prompted, though, people were singing along, word for word, on songs they remembered from distant youth.

Brian Bix