Rick Springfield proved he’s still a working class dog last Sunday night at the Hard Rock in Northfield.
In fact, you might say the ‘80s heartthrob is on a bit of a tear lately, what with his ongoing tour—which saw two Cleveland area concerts in 2015 (Hard Rock last February and Jacobs Pavilion in May) and his return to the big screen opposite Meryl Streep (Ricki and The Flash). He also published his first sci-fi novel (Magnificent Vibration) in 2014, and is releasing an all-new studio album (Rocket Science, out this week).
The former Dr. Noah Drake (General Hospital) gave the new disc extra promotional push with an afternoon mini-concert at the Record Exchange in Parma, where 400-plus diehards looked on as Springfield put an acoustic guitar through its paces. After the coffeehouse-style gig, the musician / actor / author obliged fans with autograph requests and photo ops.
But the 66-year old Springfield saved plenty of energy for the near-capacity evening engagement at the Rocksino.
Unlike previous Ohio stops—which featured Rick with a full band—the Valentine’s Day evenet was billed as a “Stripped Down” show with the Aussie-American superstar. Seated alone on a barstool center-stage (surrounded an assortment of acoustic and electric guitars), Springfield proceeded to dazzle with a marathon “unplugged” romp that leaned heavy on radio hits from Working Class Dog (1981), Success Hasn’t Spoiled Me Yet (1982), and Living in Oz (1983).
Springfield strode onstage nonchalantly following an introductory film that squeezed clips of his countless television appearances, music videos, and press interviews (with notable cameos included Dave Grohl, Jimmy Kimmel, and Arnold Schwarzenegger) into a single amusing montage. He broke the ice with campfire versions of “I Get Excited and “Affair of the Heart” on a steel-string Taylor guitar before pausing to say hello to his enthused revelers.
By way of prefacing “Me and Johnny,” Springfield spoke of his semi-rebellious childhood, his bad marks in school, and his harrowing experience entertaining troops in Vietnam with his first band.
“I figured if I can dodge rockets and mortars, I can dodge a few beer cans,” quipped Springfield, who teased The Doors’ “Light My Fire” during the Summer of Love bit.
“Love is Alright Tonight” incited an audience sing-along, and a clever mashup of Rick’s own “Jessie’s Girl” with Tommy Tutone’s “Jenny (867-5309)” and Fountains of Wayne’s “Stacy’s Mom evinced Springfield’s humor and sense-of-self as an ‘80s icon.
The Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac showcase “Oh Well” saw Rick tickle guitar strings. He paid homage to Jeff Beck / Hambone Willie Newbern with a metallic resonator guitar (and an Esquire electric) on blues staple “Rollin’ and Tumblin’”—and then went from old-fashioned to high-tech on “Inside Sylvia,” whereon he sang while “strumming” the virtual strings of his Android smart phone’s guitar app.
Springfield also had help from his Apple laptop. Unlike some performers who rely on prerecorded backing tracks as crutches but never cop to it, Rick made full disclosure about his “band in a box,” explaining that he recorded himself playing rhythm guitar and programming electronic drums into the device, so that on certain numbers he could solo over a pulse and a beat.
But mostly, it was just Rick accompanying Rick—one voice and one guitar—unfettered by extraneous sounds. At some points (“Don’t Talk to Strangers”) the strumming was so intense that Springfield popped a string.
The former-Zoot front man doted on his 94-year old mother early on, and sent out tender dedication “April 24, 1981 / My Father’s Chair” to his pops. The misty-eyed Springfield said he’s usually able to get through the ballad without tearing up, but this was not one of those occasions. The raw emotion only endeared Rick that much more to his faithful followers.
There were other choice covers amidst the intimate storytelling setting: Rick impressed with Katy Perry’s “Roar.” Later, he intro’d Badfinger’s “Baby Blue” with a funny anecdote about sharing a joint with producer Todd Rundgren…and of being accosted by Rundgren’s little dog.
Springfield sent “I’ve Done Everything for You” out to songwriter Sammy Hagar, who thanked Rick for turning the tune into a chart smash decades later with a bottle of his famous tequila. Digging into the Hard to Hold soundtrack (“Love Somebody”), Springfield confessed to behaving like a fanboy when vampire-like Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards visited the movie set in ‘83. Rick said he was later told Richards suspected him of getting fresh with costar Patti Hansen, but there wasn’t any hanky-panky going on.
The biggest gut-busters came during the country-fied “If Wishes Were Fishes,” wherein Springfield joked about (among other things) being mistaken for Bruce Springsteen.
After showing off some of his stained glass artwork, Springfield sated the casino crowd with a complete run through “Jessie’s Girl”—unplugged and seated, but no less exuberant than the recorded version.
Rick fielded some questions from the audience during his post-show Q&A (hosted by WMMS’s Susan “Duji” Catanese from Rover’s Morning Glory). Unfortunately, things quickly veered off course, courtesy two or three overzealous females who just had to burden their hero (and the entire Hard Rock crowd) with personal tales of woe and / or inspiration. Springfield spared us further pathos by picking up his guitar once more for “Light This Party Up,” from Rocket Science.
In all, it was a night of nostalgia and timeless tunes from a proven pop legend who—as Springfield himself put it—has a talent for venturing “from the sublime to the ridiculous” and back with practiced ease.
Rocket Science on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/rocket-science/id1063883689?app=itunes&ign-mpt=uo%3D4
Rocket Science at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_xo_0_26?tag=theorc-20&url=search-alias%3daps&field-keywords=rick+springfield+rocket+science&sprefix=rick+springfield+rocket+sc%2cpopular%2c167&rh=i%3aaps%2ck%3arick+springfield+rocket+science