Proving that there are second acts in rock and roll, singer/guitarist Randy Bachman left one successful rock band, only to form another, even more successful band. With his first group, the Guess Who, he co-wrote some of the their biggest hits such as “These Eyes,” “No Time,” “Undun,” and “American Woman.” The latter peaked at number one on the U.S. charts, a first for a Canadian band. However, due to health problems and other issues, Bachman left the Guess Who at the height of their popularity. Defying critics, Bachman almost immediately formed a second group, Brave Belt, with another ex-Guess Who member. After the addition of singer/bassist Fred Turner, another shift in personnel, and a name change, the new group Bachman-Turner Overdrive emerged in 1973. Within a couple of years, the hits came quickly: “Taking Care of Business,” “Let It Ride,” and “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet.” While BTO officially disbanded in 1977, Bachman and Turner periodically reunited to record new music, and classic rock radio kept the group’s music alive.
Flash forward to 2010: the duo reunited to release a new album, Bachman & Turner, and subsequently hit the road to promote the album and lead single “Rollin’ Along.” Touring under the moniker “Bachman & Turner” due to legal concerns, they made a 2011 stop at New York City’s Roseland Ballroom. The ensuing concert DVD displays two old friends who can still rock hard after almost 40 years, leading the audience in a look back at old tunes and introducing them to new. While their new songs fail to match the quality of earlier hits, Bachman and Turner still charm with their unique style of “meat and potatoes”-style rock.
After a spirited, note-perfect rendition of “Let It Ride,” Bachman and Turner perform an even-more poignant “Rock Is My Life.” “It’s a cryin’ shame/ That some of us have not survived,” Bachman sings. “No use in askin’ how it happened/ But very few are left alive.” But the duo proved they are very much alive through Bachman’s piercing guitar solos and Turner’s time-weathered growl. “You ask do we play heavy music,” Turner’s voice rumbles. “Well are thunderheads just another cloud, and we do/ Not fragile, straight at you.” Unfortunately then-new tracks like “Waiting Game” and “Moonlight Rider” are plagued with cliche-ridden lyrics, although Bachman’s soaring guitar solos occasionally rescued them from mediocrity. Although Bachman labels some of their songs “jazzy” (“Blue Collar” and “That’s What It Is”), the only tune that enters jazz territory is “Looking Out for #1.” Featuring chord changes very similar to Bachman’s Guess Who hit “Undun,” the song bears a bossa nova tempo and a jazz-tinged guitar solo.
The best moments of the Roseland Ballroom show occur when a surprise guest joins Bachman and Turner onstage: fellow Canadian and lifelong fan Paul Shaffer. Wearing a tremendous grin, he gleefully joins the band on the early Guess Who hit “Shakin’ All Over,” then pounds the piano on forceful renditions of “Roll on Down the Highway” and “Taking Care of Business.” The audience reacts most to these moments; otherwise the crowd is barely seen or heard from on the rest of the DVD. This hampers the concert-going experience, as the crucial give-and-take between artist and audience is virtually nonexistent here. In addition, the DVD lacks any extras; hardcore fans would have appreciated new interviews or backstage footage.
Bachman & Turner Live at the Roseland Ballroom NYC clearly targets longtime fans who are extremely familiar with their older and newer material. Causal or new listeners interested in just the hits may want to just invest in a “greatest hits” CD. Regardless, Bachman and Turner deserve credit for “working overtime” for four decades and still sounding as fresh as ever.