John Hall - guitar, vocals; Larry Hoppen - guitar, vocals, keyboards, horn; Lance Hoppen - bass, vocals; Wells Kelly - drums, percussion, keyboards, vocals; Jerry Marotta - drums, percussion, horn, 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 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 day after this concert at the University Of Lowell, the group 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. This concert, on the previous day, was another outdoor event featuring several New England artists including Aztec Two-Step, the Beaver Brown Band, Leslie West (of Mountain fame), and Orleans. This was the first of two performances Orleans gave that day as they immediately headed to Middletown, CT after this afternoon gig to perform again that evening, before turning back around for the gigantic Boston Hatch Shell gig the following day. Such was the rigors of the band's road schedule during this era.
Orleans kicks things off with the humorous reggae number, "Howdy Tanky," and the soulful reggae vibe of their own "Reach." The infectious enthusiasm of the group is immediately apparent on these opening numbers and sets a good-time tone for the rest of the performance. 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. The mellower, acoustic oriented "Time Passes On" from the breakthrough 1975 album, and then "Dance With Me" are up next, followed by a strong performance of the jazzy "Spring Fever," their hot new single at the time. 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 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 US 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 seriousness of the subject matter (nuclear waste, PCBs) is delivered within a Latin calypso framework, complete with horns by Larry and Jerry. Another surprise follows as the band launch into the bluesy "If The Rabbit Had A Gun." This Memphis Slim cover not only displays the bands ability to play the blues, but also serves as an outstanding example of drummer Wells Kelly's organ prowess. "Waking and Dreaming," the ambitious title track of one of their most popular albums, is a true tour-de-force performance. This funky rocker is utterly infectious, containing powerful playing from all involved, before they close the set with the harmonious hook-laden hit, "Still The One," leaving the audience clamoring for more.
When the band returns for the encore, they pull out all the stops on a jammed out version of "The Breakdown." This is a fine example of the band's improvisational skills, featuring fiery guitar playing from Hall and Hoppen, a seriously funky bottom end from the rhythm section and a great spontaneous sequence where they sing the praises of playing before a Massachusetts audience and even touch on a bit of Wilson Pickett's "I Found A Love" for good measure, delighting the audience and bringing this high energy encore to a close.