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Concert review: San Tan Valley audience has time for The Guess Who

The Guess Who in concert, April 5, 2014, San Tan Valley, AZ
The Guess Who in concert, April 5, 2014, San Tan Valley, AZ
Becky Hansen

The Guess Who in concert, April 5, 2014, San Tan Valley, AZ

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Those of us that live in Arizona can cite many wonderful things about spring. There is baseball spring training. The weather is twice or three times as warm as most of the country. There is the annual sighting of the band, The Guess Who, at some spring festival. For the third time in four years (the band was at the Chandler Ostrich Festival last year), The Guess Who performed at the Good Life Festival at the Encanterra Country Club in San Tan Valley, Arizona, this time on Saturday, April 5. Given their top notch, hit laden, ninety minute set, it’s likely The Guess Who will be invited back to Arizona next spring.

The Guess Who in concert, April 5, 2014, San Tan Valley, AZ
Becky Hansen

Although the current lineup of The Guess Who may not be the one people remember from the days when “American Woman,” was played as a current hit on AM radio stations, that doesn’t make seeing them live 45 years later any less enjoyable. Two original members of The Guess Who remain, drummer Garry Peterson and bassist Jim Kale. Keyboard player, Leonard Shaw, started playing with the band 23 years ago. The newest kids on the block are lead singer/guitarist Derek Sharp and guitarist Will Evankovich.

Unfair as it may be to Sharp, he’s always going to be compared to The Guess Who’s most popular lead singer, Burton Cummings. Given the positive reaction from the crowd on Saturday, Sharp has been accepted.

As he should be. “Bus Rider,” the opening song off of The Guess Who’s 1970 album, “Share The Land,” and the opening song of the set, showed off Sharp’s great vocal range and voice. There’s a little more grit to Sharp’s voice than Cummings and that’s okay. Sharp was an excellent front man throughout the show.

Although the crowd, a healthy portion comprised of The Guess Who’s fellow Canadians, chose to remain seated, they did perform the proper hand claps for “Clap For the Wolfman.” Shaw provided the “Wolfman Jack,” part and the band showed off their nice harmonies with an a cappella ending.

Two hits, “Laughing” and “Undun” off of The Guess Who’s 1969 album, “Canned Wheat,” once again showed off Sharp’s vocals and the group’s harmonies. “Undun,” was introduced by Peterson as “his favorite song” and Shaw’s lengthy flute solo earned a standing ovation.

Those that sat down were quickly back up when Sharp’s acoustic guitar chords opened up “No Sugar Tonight.” For the first time during the set, a majority of the audience was up and singing.

Kale then spoke of a time when The Guess Who was still known as Chad Allen and the Expressions and when they released their first international hit, meaning it sold well not only in Canada but in parts of North Dakota and Minnesota. The original studio version of 1965’s “Shakin’ All Over,” might have only been 2 minutes and 46 seconds long, but the live version was a lengthy jam. Shaw, Sharp and Evankovich each played a solo and for a moment, all for the better, this band didn’t sound at all like The Guess Who most people know. Who knew that The Guess Who was a jam band?

Continuing the not what you would expect from them portion of the show, the band played a new composition, “A Long Day.” The slow tempo song continued the Guess Who tradition of strong lead vocals backed by stellar harmonies. It’s always a plus to see classic rock bands still willing to try out something new.

The band returned to the album “Share the Land,” for a pair of top twenty hits, “Hand Me Down World,” and “Share the Land.” Sharp once again showed his vocal range during the latter song and the crowd reacted with another standing ovation.

Sharp then a had a little fun with the audience as he did a call and response with them, his “heys” sounding a bit more polished than those the crowd gave back in return. After the band did a quick version of the Carol Burnett theme song, “I’m So Glad We Had This Time Together,” the members left the stage, leaving drummer, Peterson behind. He showed that for a guy who started playing the drums when he was three, he still had some gas left in the tank with his drum solo.

The remainder of the band returned on stage for another jam, although if you listened closely to Kale’s bass line, you could tell what song was coming up next. When the familiar chords that begin “American Woman,” were finally struck, the place exploded. With the crowd up and applauding, the band finished their regular set.

When Peterson again remained behind, you knew the band was coming out for an encore and they did not disappoint. They tore into Little Richard’s “Lucille,” with Shaw now blowing away on saxophone. Sharp nailed the difficult vocals of “These Eyes,” and the hard driving “No Time,” once again brought people to their feet.

Given the size of the line for the post performance, open to anyone, meet and greet, this version of The Guess Who is still a popular draw. More important, the band looks like they are enjoying themselves while performing on stage. With that type of enthusiasm, it’s difficult not to enjoy it with them. Plus, they sound great. For many who watched The Guess Who this year, next year’s spring can’t return quickly enough.

Set list: Bus Rider | Clap For The Wolfman | Laughing | Undun | No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature | Shakin’ All Over | A Long Day | Playin’ On The Radio (brief piano intro only) | Hand Me Down World | Share The Land | Drum Solo | American Woman | Encore: Lucille | These Eyes | No Time