John Hall - guitar, vocals; Larry Hoppen - guitar, vocals, keyboards, horn; Lance Hoppen - bass, vocals; Wells Kelly - drums, percussion, piano, vocals; Jerry Marotta - drums, percussion, horn, vocals; Guests: Jon Pousette-Dart, John Troy, John Curtis
Fronted by the guitar playing vocalists John Hall and Larry Hoppen, Orleans built its initial reputation through relentless touring on the Northeast club and college circuit in the early 1970s. Based out of the artist/musician community of Woodstock in the Catskills of New York, Hall's formidable gifts as a songwriter and the band's finely crafted songs and polished live performances earned them early recognition from Rolling Stone magazine, which declared Orleans "the best unrecorded band in America". Showcase performances in New York City led to a recording contract and the release of the band's debut album in 1973. However, it was two years later that the band scored its first hit with "Let There Be Music" in 1975. Now forever remembered for the sweetly harmonious hits that soon followed, "Dance With Me" and "Still The One," in reality the group was far more adventurous, incorporating reggae, R&B, soul and jazz elements into their uplifting finely crafted pop-rock songs, many with elaborate vocal arrangements. Unlike many groups of this era that relied on studio wizardry to create a highly polished sound, the members of Orleans were talented musicians who had the vocal prowess to deliver the goods outside the studio.
At the time of this recording, the band was arguably at the peak of their performance powers. In fact, the night prior to this concert at Fairleigh Dickinson University, the group had performed one of the most memorable concerts of their career. Hundreds of thousands jammed into downtown Boston to catch Orleans, Heart, and Burton Cummings at the Charles River Esplanade's Hatch Shell, providing Orleans with their largest audience to date. Roaring approval from this monumental crowd led to numerous encores and the band was elated at the astounding success of this event. Suffice it to say that things had never looked brighter when Orleans, along with their good friends the Pousette-Dart Band, rolled into Madison, New Jersey for another outdoor performance the following day.
Kicking it off with the humorous reggae number, "Howdy Tanky," the infectious enthusiasm of the group is immediately apparent from the second this recording begins. What follows is a diverse selection of some of the classic Orleans lineup's finest material, as well as a few surprises. The harmonious hook-laden hits, "Dance With Me" and "Still The One," both surface in this set, but it is often the lesser known material that displays Orleans' best qualities and is ultimately the most satisfying here. The soulful "Reach" from the 1976 album and "Time Passes On" from the breakthrough 1975 album, are both represented here, as well as an outstanding live take on "Please Be There" from their 1973 debut. There is also an abundance of material that had not yet been recorded. Orleans delivers strong versions of "Don't Throw Our Love Away," a song that would surface two years later on the 1979 Forever album and "Oughta Daughta (Think I Will)," a full three years prior to the 1980 studio recording. All of this material reveals a band at the top of their game, but unlike the somewhat sterilized sound of the studio recordings, these songs are more immediate and compelling here. The rhythm section, which included bassist Lance Hoppen and the dual percussion of Wells Kelly and Jerry Moratta, is far more expressive and propulsive in live performance. This thoroughly enhances the melodic and dynamic guitar work of Hall and Hoppen, not to mention the complex vocal arrangements, which are delivered by all with outstanding flair. John Hall, who would eventually pursue a political career as a Congressman, also reveals his concern for more serious matters in "Plutonium Is Forever," a song that wouldn't see release for several decades. The band delivers this with a unique sense of humor and style, as the seriousness of the subject matter (nuclear waste, PCBs) is delivered within a Latin calypso framework, complete with horns by Jerry and Larry!
Listeners will note two additional "outtake" tracks also available here. Serious technical issues plagued both of these tracks. However, they are included as both reveal interesting performances among the technical flaws. The jazzy "Spring Fever" was Orleans' new single at the time and although incomplete due to a tape change in the middle as well as several tape dropouts, it's a strong performance. "Waking and Dreaming," the title track of one of their most popular albums, suffers from similar issues, but following the initial slow prelude section that begins this song, it is a true tour-de-force performance. This funky rocker is utterly infectious, containing powerful playing from all involved before the tape stock ran out with the song still in progress. These two highly flawed recordings were such strong performances; they are included here to complete the picture of this memorable night.
What remains to be noted is the show closer. To end the night, Orleans invites openers, the Pousette-Dart Band back on stage for a jam. Beginning with the New Orleans style gospel march of "Jesus On The Mainline," this becomes a joyous flight that builds with swirling organ, tasty slide guitar embellishments from Jon Pousette-Dart and plenty of percussion. Although loose enough to feel spontaneous, the musicians remain focused and cohesive. It's a remarkable performance that also showcases the guitar prowess of Hall and Hoppen in a most positive light. As this jam continues to build in intensity, it rhythmically transitions into a hot rocking variation of Albert Kings' "Call My Job," with great call and response between the guitarists that totally delights the audience and brings the night to a close.