Rick Springfield’s current Stripped Down tour finds the Australian-bred T.V. heartthrob-rocker regaling audiences with stories while banging out his best tunes in intimate, “unplugged” environs.
Eschewing the acoustic menu was a good move; Springfield’s coffeehouse concert wouldn’t have gone over as well in a decidedly not intimate 2,200 capacity venue filled with screaming ladies bearing gifts and wielding cardboard signage declaring their devotion.
What hits did Rick play?
All of ‘em, we think. Thanks to a mid-set montage that distilled a half-dozen of his seventeen Top 40 Hits into one glorious gulp, Springfield was able to serve up practically every highlight from his four-decade long career, beginning with the title cut from 1983’s Living In Oz.
The Sammy Hagar-penned “I’ve Done Everything for You” was the evening’s Working Class Dog icebreaker, while “I Get Excited” peeled the shrink-wrap off 1982’s Success Hasn’t Spoiled Me Yet. Old school smashes like “An Affair of the Heart” were given muscular makeovers (Rick’s been spending time with Dave Grohl at Sound City) but the guys honored the spirit of the original recordings. Springfield also made room for a couple selections from newer albums—like last year’s impressive Songs for the End of the World—treating diehards to “Our Ship’s Sinking” and “I Hate Myself (Cuz I Want You).”
The twenty-minute medley probably surprised those who haven’t kept Rick on radar over the years. Swerving in and out of verses and refrains from Hard to Handle / Tao tracks “Bop Till You Drop,” “Celebrate Youth,” “Don’t Walk Away,” and (Mondo Rock cover) “State of the Heart,” the slender, black-clad Springfield dragged ticket-holders down Memory Lane whether they wanted to go or not, with himself as tour guide on the cleverly-assembled “Bet you forgot this one” showcase. Additional Success… numbers “Calling All Girls” and “What Kind of Fool Am I” underscored both the quantity and quality of Springfield’s work during his peak years on radio—and MTV.
“Love Is All Right Tonight” returned Rick and his fans to full-song format. By this point, Springfield was sweaty and sleeveless (having ditched his overcoat), and had shred dozens of roses proffered by adoring ladies by wind-milling the bouquets across his guitar strings, sacrificially showering everyone with pedals. Great gimmicks never get old.
Springfield played his share of rhythm guitar, cycling through a dozen of his custom six-strings (orange, black, red, steam-punk) monsters during the gig and keeping his technician on his toes. He took a turn in the spotlight with a run through The Ventures’ instrumental surf theme, “Pipeline,” which segued into The Troggs’ “Wild Thing.” Even Springfield’s broken E-strings proved no obstacle, as a majority of leads were scripted to longtime ax-man George Bernhardt (who brandished a new Gibson SG). So Rick was at liberty to take his fingers off the frets and thrust an emphatic fist skyward if the mood struck. During “Human Touch,” he even wandered into the crowd and sang on a wireless mic while navigating an ocean of limbs: Another old-but-effective schtick.
Because it’s like, human…touch. Get it?
“Those folding chairs were tough to manage!” huffed Springfield after climbing back onstage.
A quartet of vertically-oriented screens flickered with intriguing images (tigers, traffic lights, old photos, writhing dancing girls, space cartoons) that varied thematically from song-to-song. Lyrics occasionally flashed, and Springfield sometimes ended up vocalizing in synch with his younger self, as seen in vintage clips, like the Metropolis / Mad Max-inspired music videos for “Bop” and “Touch.”
The singer mentioned his forthcoming novel, Magnificent Vibration, two or three times. Springfield’s first foray into fiction—due May 6th on Touchstone—centers on a 32-year old divorcee who discovers a 1-800 number for God scrawled in a self-help manual. Rick was clearly eager to plug the book, but was careful not to browbeat prospective buyers:
“This next song is not about my new book,” he laughed later, prefacing another tune.
Despite putting 100% into his songs and stagecraft, Springfield remained cognizant of his audience and surroundings. He sometimes paused to scribble an autograph on a photo or LP sleeve shoved onto the lip of the stage, and he gave a lot of high-fives and fist-bumps to the big-spenders down front. He lightheartedly teased certain onlookers, many of whom held cameras and iPhones aloft to capture shots for e-posterity: “Were you Tweeting there?” he asked a woman he bumped while negotiating the aisles.
Dr. Drake also discouraged house security from moving people back (whilst diplomatically expressing gratitude for their vigilance).
“No need for the buzzkill,” he said. “It’s a rock and roll show! We’re all adults here, and no one’s gonna get hurt.”
Rick didn’t completely forsake his acoustic guitar for Ohio’s hard-charging one-off: He and Bernhardt went unplugged for the sterling “You and I,” and Springfield sang while seated on the heart-wrenching “My Father’s Chair”—a ballad dedicated to his departed father, whose picture dominated a slideshow on the LCD backdrop. The band then transitioned back to balls-out mode with the recent “Love Screws Me Up” and uber-singles “Don’t Talk to Strangers” and “Love Somebody.”
Teased in snippets throughout the show—and arriving after a video montage illustrating the song’s long shelf life in television and film—“Jessie’s Girl” was finally rendered in its entirely, with Rick inviting the crowd to sing along (not that he had to goad anybody). The band wound through The Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” as Springfield introduced the musicians, who—in addition to Bernhardt—included Paul Trudeau (KORG keys), George Nastos (5-string bass), and Jorge Palacios (drums).
The show could’ve ended there, and to everyone’s satisfaction—but Rick—returning to the stage in fresh clothes (and glasses)—strummed through the Fab Four’s “We Can Work It Out” before signing off with revved-up versions of his own “I’ll Make You Happy” and “Kristina.” Two women made their way onstage (one via stealth, the other by siege) to embrace their hero during the encore, but Springfield took the distractions in stride, rewarding his fans’ enthusiasm with quick hugs before they were escorted back to the floor.
A welcome escape from Cleveland’s mid-Winter blues, the nostalgic night of throwback FM magic transported a lot of folks (including this writer) back to junior high for a couple glorious hours (‘80s music by Eurhythmics, Scandal, Fixx, etc. blared from the P.A. before the show). Springfield’s female fandom—now in their 40’s and 50’s—loved every minute of it, dancing giddily shoulder-to-shoulder and flooding the venue with a Cougar Town’s worth of high-decibel adoration. And the band’s performance was so taut, so polished and uproariously guitar-laden, that even the “slick continental dudes” among us could appreciate the effort Rick and his crew put into the musical party.
The albums Rock of Life, Karma, and Venus in Overdrive didn’t get much attention this time out; we’d have enjoyed hearing “Honeymoon in Beirut” or “Victoria’s Secret” again. But such omissions became small potatoes in lieu of the beefy song smorgasbord laid out in Northfield.
And was it just me, or did Springfield really play a bit of Katy Perry’s latest single?