John Hall - guitar, vocals; Larry Hoppen - guitar, keyboards, trumpet, vocals; Lance Hoppen - bass, vocals; Wells Kelly - keyboards, drums, percussion, vocals; Jerry Marotta - drums, percussion, saxophone, vocals; Guest: Valerie Carter - vocals
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 gift 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. Although they are remembered for the sweetly harmonious hits that followed, "Dance with Me" and "Still the One," the group was far more adventurous, incorporating reggae, R&B, soul, and jazz elements into their uplifting pop-rock songs, and icing them 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 of the studio. At the time of this recording, the band was arguably at the peak of their performance powers.
Following a wild night in Daytona Beach, which is mentioned in the introduction, Orleans lands in Miami. What follows is a diverse selection of some of the classic Orleans line-up's finest material, as well as an abundance of fresh new music, including several 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. They kick things off with Bob Marley's "Trenchtown Rock" and continue the soulful reggae vibe with their own "Reach." The infectious enthusiasm of the group is immediately apparent on these opening numbers, and sets a good-time tone for the night. Surprisingly, the humorous "Oughta Daughta (Think I Will)" is up next, a full three years prior to the 1980 studio recording. The group specifically mentions that they are testing out new material, and this continues with an early arrangement of "Don't Throw Our Love Away," which would eventually surface on the Forever album in 1979. "Time Passes On," from the breakthrough 1975 album, and "Dance With Me" are up next, followed by a strong performance of their jazzy then-single "Spring Fever."
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 immediate and compelling. The rhythm section, which included bassist Lance Hoppen and the dual percussion of Wells Kelly and Jerry Marotta, is far more expressive and propulsive in live performance. This thoroughly enhances the melodic and dynamic guitar work of John Hall and Larry Hoppen, not to mention the complex vocal arrangements, which are delivered by all with outstanding flair.
With the audience thoroughly engaged at this point, they again seize the opportunity to try out new material. John Hall, who would eventually pursue a political career as a U.S. Congressman, 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 serious subject matter (nuclear waste, PCBs) is delivered within a Latin calypso framework, complete with horns by Larry and Jerry! Another welcome surprise is Larry Hoppen's lovely new song, "Angela," which was never released officially by the group.
The final half hour of the set is quite remarkable, beginning with "Waking and Dreaming," the title track of their popular 1976 album. Following the initial slow prelude section that begins this song, it becomes a true tour-de-force performance. This funky rocker is utterly infectious, containing powerful playing from all involved, particularly Lance Hoppen on bass, before it culminates into a joyously raucous version of "The Bum," with Wells Kelly getting an opportunity to front the band on lead vocal. This harder-rocking approach continues with "Let There Be Music," before they cap off the set with the ever popular "Still the One," leaving the Miami audience howling for more.
For the encore, Orleans invites opener Valerie Carter up on stage, whose powerful voice lends great gospel authenticity to the New Orleans style march of "Jesus on the Mainline." This becomes a joyous flight with the various lead vocalists taking turns at improvising verses. Although loose enough to feel spontaneous, the musicians remain focused. It's a remarkable performance that also showcases the guitar prowess of Hall and Hoppen, and the organ work of Wells Kelly in a most positive light. Midway through this improvised excursion, the singers begin belting out verses of "Bring It on Home to Me" which flow perfectly within the context of this arrangement, before reprising "Jesus on the Mainline" proper, and bringing it to a close. The audience still demands more and Orleans delivers a second encore with "Tongue Tied," a staple since the band's early clubbing days, which was featured on the debut album from 1973. This funky rocker cranks it back up, delighting the audience and bringing this memorable night to a close.