Had a chance to enjoy a couple of hours with Mark Farner last night at the Rose in Pasadena.
The extremely likable Farner had the audience eating out of his hand all evening telling tales of the adventures and misadventures of those three young guys out of Flint, Michigan, Mark, Don, and Mel, that of course became the powerhouse trio Grand Funk Railroad.
While expecting a full-on blow-me-away electric presentation, we were all surprised to see and hear a fully acoustic set, without a drum kit altogether, and our host was backed by a solid acoustic electric bassist and two very talented six-string guitarists as well.
The senior Farner made mention of his newness to playing acoustic gigs, but pointed out that most of his songs started out that way anyway, so it wasn’t all that unnatural.
On the way to the show, I commented to my wife about the great GFR Live album from 1971 and what an amazing live album it was, and how they opened with Are You Ready? on it. Well, sure enough, that was his opening number last night as well.
After that, he ran through a half-dozen of lesser-known tunes, including Aimless Lady, Mr. Pretty Boy, Limousine Driver and a couple more from the earlier Grand Funk recordings. The band was tight and Farner was able to display his first-tenor voice, still in surprisingly good shape, whether singing lead or high backup throughout the show.
To give that voice a rest in between numbers, he told stories about GFR’s first major gig in 1969 at a pop festival in Atlanta headlined by the Rolling Stones, opening for Jimi Hendrix, his bro-sis relationship with Janis Joplin, the pranks she pulled on Mick Jagger, how they all secretly resented the British Invasion, their first recordings, and more. Really fun to be taken back to those times, to hear tales of your “heroes” by someone who lived through all of it first-hand.
The very patriotic Farner turned his attention to his keyboard and played a couple of numbers including a soulful and very well-received Mean Mistreater. The crowd was extremely supportive all night with whoops, whistles and hollering going on like it used to be back in the old days with Grand Funk.
The last third of the show included covers of Be My Baby, Locomotion and Superstitious, plus a poke at The Man with CSN’s Ohio. The audience, including this author, sang the whole tune along with the band. A fine moment to be sure.
Lastly, he and his band closed out the show with Captain, My Captain. Farner made clear his support of veterans, present and past, and the audience was at full volume singing the chorus “I’m getting closer to my home.” Though the audience cheered for quite a few minutes after the band left the stage, there was no encore.
The opening set was by a local product name Nick Marichal, who offered up a spirited set of bluesy-rock enclosed within a four-piece electric outfit.
As is the requirement, we ate at the Rose and were surprised to have a nice meal, though stayed away from their over-priced and less-than-premium meat dishes. The service was clearly sub-standard too.
All in all a very pleasant evening spent with some nice people around us and a very gracious and still very talented Mark Farner…it was a pity he wasn’t still with Don and Mel, those once young 20-year-olds from Flint, Michigan…