40 years after 10 cc''s first single, Graham Gouldman, a genius pop songwriter for hire in the early 60s, who became 2.5 of 10 cc in the early 1970s, does the impossible, he makes his return to the New York stage after 35 years, disappoint.
This is not because of 10 cc's set proper at the Concert Hall, a Church that performs double duty, though the room's sound is much better for acoustic and not electric instrumentation, but because, Gouldman promised us, at least in theory, the original 1972-1976, but only Gouldman showed. Sure we get older members like Paul Burgess, who added muscle to their stage show years ago, Rick Fenn on lead guitar and also Mick Wilson who takes a while to get going but is more than passable singing original lead singer slash falsetto Eric Stewart's parts once he settles in.
And if Gouldman had dubbed himself "…Sings 10 cc And Other Hits" or "Fresh Semen", no harm, no foul. But, man it is a bummer. At least original drummer Kevin Godley showed for a couple of songs in London the other day…
Look at the band this way: they have always worked an axis. They even started as an axis: multi-instrumentalists capable of writing just about any type of pop song on earth through a split in sensibilities.. Writing and recording singles and demos for various artists before they were even 10 CC. In an effort to cut costs, hit machine Gouldman worked exclusively at Strawberry Studios in Stockport (ten minutes from where I was born!) with three friends. A machine built to make pop songs and who, when the foursome, Graham, Stewart, Godley and Creme, had spare time, and since they were in the studio any way, worked on more adventurous pop fare. 10 cc recorded Kevin's "Donna",as a "B Side" and got signed based upon it. Tthey were an immediately sensation and never looked back. But the split in two, the arty ones going in one direction, popsters in the other, overwhelmed the band and when Creme and Godley quit, Grahan and Eric just kept on going. 10 cc have had a revolving personnel with GG the only constant ever since. So I shouldn't but do complain that this isn't the original soundtrack though I am doing… big boys don't cry big boys don't cry…
Once over the shock that we'd been swizzed with the Touring Line Up, all that was left was to see if Gouldman could pull it off. And he can but not always. The worst offender was the third song "The Things We Do For Love" -which the great man took a meat cleaver to, with Wilson completely failing on the vocals and Graham's harmonies obviously putting him off. I am not being a contrarian, there is a snippet from the concert at the end of the review, check it out yourself.
Otherwise it is a matter of personal taste. What do you want from the band? I love their pop songs and can take or leave their prog rock, multi-part usually guitar parts. To their credit it is never simply riffs for riffs sake. On stage Friday night, Gouldman doesn't so much rearrange 10 CC as extended it for maximum impact. "Art For Art's Sake" coda is a marvel of syncopated rhythms and includes an extended solo by Finn. The song receives a rousing cheer from the graying of America audience but I was less appreciative: if I wanted to see Status Quo I'd go to Status Quo". The song always suffered from that problem: it is irony that sounds like sad sincerity. Plus, the sound is off, the mix gets straightened out as the concert proceeds, but at this point it ain't there.
Better is a fine "Donna", the band play it a cappella at the end of the show, as well as with electric instrumentation in the middle of the set. Robert Nevin got the question right a couple of days ago when he wondered how they were going to replace the irreplaceable. What to do about Eric Stewart? The answer appeared to be 10 cc would suffer without Eric. But with their doo whop satire and first single, Mick Wilson clicks into place and the set improves.
But the band are not quite there yet. Graham Gouldman is in pretty good nick for a 66 year old and is an affable MC, he is a Terry Jones Doppelganger, and he seems quietly in control of the proceedings, but he seemed to drag it out once too often. I took a read of Nevin's review of Deceptive Bends from a couple of years ago, http://www.rocknycliveandrecorded.com/2009/06/deceptive-bends-in-review.html . Now, Nev is a sophisticated prog rock type guy (don't get him on King Crimson) but, he isn't referencing the long arty ones here, and I don't blame him. Which is why it is all the more surprising that 10 CC finally come into their own with a 15 minute "Feel The Benefit". Everybody shines here, but Rick's guitar takes over and anchors the band. It was really the first time all night I bought into the entire this is 10 cc concept: too often, despite the bands every effort, it felt like a bunch session men and Gouldman. Finally, they felt like a band. The audience was on their feet and roaring for this and Graham's diffident "Thank you very much", not unlike John Cleese as Robin Hood in "Time Bandits, was hilarious. He looked as though he was about top blush any second.
I started this review by dismissing the "The Things We Do For Love", it was like taking a saw to a souffle. But as proof that the band had gotten it together, "I'm Not In Love" -their biggest song, and one of the greatest pop songs ever written (by GG and Eric Stewart) is completely flawless. Using backup tapes for the chick parts and some of the ooohs, it is a perfect replication and yet still very alive. I can't say enough about Wilson's vocal: any falsetto can channel Stewart but he really dug deep here, this was neither Karaoke nor was it a cover band version: this is about as good as it could be done. GG's guitar solo, just the first two strings, was lovely and strange -I had never noticed it before.
"I'm Not In Love" works against the 10 cc rational, of semi-satiric pop songs with the melodies skewered, the social observation cynical and the sound thrilling, and easy and complex: highly arranged pop art taking the middle ground between Steely Dan and Squeeze. "I'm Not In Love" is a straightforward piano based ballad plus ever deepening multi tracks plus gorgeous backing harmonies. But even more than that, strip it down to just the melody, and it is a smart romantic lyric plus a melody worthy of McCartney, or Graham in the 1960s. Easy to fuck up, 10 CC don't, they replicate it and extended it but only by a little. Another standing Ovation.
That's the evenings' climax, as it should be, and even a sing along to "Rubber Bullets" which, with Mike Stevens, a subtle presence on keyboards all night, blowing a thrilling solo on the saxophone, couldn't quite beat the highlight of Graham's career. A career with nothing but highlights.
No, it wasn't perfect, though an acoustic opening set by Graham (which I will review elsewhere) certainly was. Yes, it wasn't what we had signed up, the first 20 minutes were a complete washout, it peaked 20 minutes before it ended, the acoustics sucked. But in the end, to hear "The Dean And I", "Good Morning, Judge", "Dreadlock Holiday" … many more, by the man who wrote them, I wanted more but I'll take what I am given. Graham Gouldman is a legendary songwriter. Friday was one more reason why.