Reviews > Shows
Return To Forever at the Horseshoe Casino
Return To Forever
They saved the best for last. In what amounted to a two-hour blitz through material familiar to most Return to Forever fans, the band came back for a well-received encore. RTF co-founding member/bassist Stanley Clarke’s ’70s classic fusion romp “School Days” was filled with bouncing effervescence, this unpretentious, hard-charging funk number belying all the intricacies of previous tunes played, what with its fetching quasi-disco beat and fiery exchanges between all members.
That’s not to say everything else wasn’t fun. It was. You could tell by the visual cues, not to mention the frequent smiles generously passed around. Joining Clarke and fellow RTF co-founder/keyboardist Chick Corea on stage was another original RTF member, drummer Lenny White. Others players included guitarist Frank Gambale (a vet from one of Corea’s 1980s Elektric Bands) and fusion pioneer violinist Jean-Luc Ponty.
Ponty made an earlier appearance, sitting in with the opening band, Zappa Plays Zappa. Playing “Fifty-Fifty,” from Frank Zappa’s 1973 Overnite Sensation (when Ponty was with the band), Ponty’s stunning electric blue violin sang sweetly amidst the organized cacophony spearheaded by son Dweezil Zappa’s octet of guitars (two), keyboards, bass, drums, percussion, trumpet and saxophones. Elsewhere, the band (no sheet music!) ably delivered their takes on such thorny gems as “Big Swifty,” “Pojama People” and, of course, “Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow.” Throughout, Dweezil dished up some serious chops on his dark-red Gibson SG guitar, lead vocals handled by the energetic Ben Thomas (doubling on trumpet).
RTF kicked things off with the perfect opener, the “Medieval Overture” from their last quartet album, 1976’s Romantic Warrior. With Corea and White positioned opposite each other, Ponty, Clarke and Gambale filled out the middle, facing the slightly full “casino crowd” of mostly aging baby boomers. Billed as Return to Forever IV, RTF guitarist Al DiMeola was missed as Gambale proved the weak link, his guitar work steady but uninspired. Ponty’s place in the band was a natural, though, as he took certain of Corea’s former synth lines and made them his own. That’s when he wasn’t playfully sparring with the keyboardist.
And while White offered a typically strong turn at drums, it was Clarke who threatened to steal the show with exuberant solos on both acoustic and electric basses. Playing both as if they were toys, the towering Clarke (his strong fingers flailing away), invariably ended up leaning on his trademark pops and slaps, turning his basses into percussion instruments on tunes like Corea’s “Captain Senor Mouse” and Ponty’s more spare, openly funky “Renaissance.”
For anyone familiar with RTF’s writing, it was no surprise that the set essentially played itself, from tune to tune, some of their renditions a bit clunky in execution when compared to the originals. In time, though, the intricate arrangements gave way to a looser, jamband kind of vibe that had the audience on their feet.
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