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Reunion Acts and Arena Dinosaurs - Mostly Free, Mostly Awesome

It’s scary, the hold nostalgia can get on you. If I had known when I was a teenager how much crappy music would exert a pull on me as an adult simply because I heard it a lot when I was impressionable, maybe I would have spent less time listening to the radio.

But then again, I can’t deny that I love to spend summer evenings in Western New York at shows by bands that were selling out the Aud when they were having hits. Even better, these shows are usually free, making it possible to put that ticket money to a better use, like buying beer and the kind of food my doctor says I shouldn’t eat.

You kids in your 20s and 30s can have Thursdays at the Square. Here’s a highly partial list of some of the shows that will be pressing my nostalgia buttons this summer, along with a few I plan to steer clear of. All are free unless noted otherwise.

Sha Na Na—Only the drummer, piano player and one of the vocalists are left from the dozen guys who kicked off the 1950s revival at Woodstock in 1969. But for a band where the concept was always more important than personalities, it hardly matters. Jon “Bowzer” Bauman is gone, and that’s really just as well. June 9 at the Hamburg Fairgrounds.

Blue Oyster Cult

Blue Oyster Cult—They’re hardly my favorite band, or even in the top 10. But I’ve probably seen them more than any other band simply because they’ve played so many bars and free shows locally in this area since the mid 1980s, and they always put on a good show. This Long Island band had a tongue-in-cheek attitude toward heavy metal years before Spinal Tap, with songs like “Joan Crawford Has Risen from the Dead” and “Godzilla.” They’re down to two original members with the retirement of keyboard player Allen Lanier, but guitarist Buck Dharma and singer Eric Bloom are still on hand to keep the bikers happy. June 16 at Artpark.

America—The original three guys with guitars were reduced to two in the late 1970s but haven’t otherwise changed much since. And while to some they may have defined the kind of soft rock that necessitated the creation of punk, they were never bland, with intricate harmonies delivering imponderable but memorable lyrics. And do you know anyone who doesn’t like “Sister Golden Hair”? June 23 at Artpark.

Cheap Trick—I’m still trying to decide if it’s worth braving an audience who will probably be at this show primarily for Def Leppard and Poison. On the other hand, they’ll probably open the show, which means I can leave well ahead of the rest of the traffic. June 26 at Darien Lake.

Three Dog Night—You’ll have to pay for this one, and it isn’t cheap. Still, the band that had more pop hits in the early 1970s than anyone I can think of was in top form when they played for free at Artpark last summer. Singer Chuck Negron, whose tenor was featured on many of their hits, is long gone (victim of one of the entertainment industry’s most spectacular heroin problems, now past) as is the distinctive drumming of Floyd Sneed. But it’s mostly the original band, led by singers Danny Hutton and Buffalo native Cory Wells. July 5 at Holiday Valley.

Grand Funk Railroad—In the words of Homer Simpson, “Mark Farner’s wild, shirtless lyrics! The bong-rattling bass of Mel Schacher! The competent drum work of Don Brewer!” (Googling that quote to check it, I was informed by a MySpace jobs page that “We couldn’t find any jobs for Bong Rattling Bass.” Shame.) The excesses of Farner, the hot-shit guitarist whom critics utterly loathed in the bands’ early days, gave way to a more pop sensibility in the mid 1970s, the era most likely to be reflected by this Farner-less group in which Brewer and Schacher are joined by former KISS guitarist Bruce Kulick and 38 Special singer Max Carl. July 14 at Artpark.

Gordon Lightfoot—Rumors of the legendary Canadian singer’s failing health are untrue, but he’s 71 and he ain’t gonna tour forever (unlike Bob Dylan, who somehow doesn’t seem to be playing here this year), so fork over the $38 for a ticket. July 24 Chautauqua Ampitheater.

Grass Roots

The Grass Roots—Their 20 or so hits from 1967 thorough 1972 were mostly producer-driven, but they were always a functioning band instead of a studio creation. Since the early 1980s they’ve been led by original bassist/singer Rob Grill, who somehow failed to become a solo star despite an album produced by Lindsay Buckingham. It’s a shame they have to recreate all those great horn charts on keyboards, but with songs like “Midnight Confessions” and “Temptation Eyes” you can’t go wrong. August 4 at Hamburg Fairgrounds.

The Temptations—There’s still one original Tempt in the group, founding member Otis Williams, with co-singers who joined in 1983, 1997, 2003, and 2007. August 18 at Hamburg Fairgrounds.

The Moody Blues—Why are these guys still commanding top ticket prices after 45 years when so many younger bands with more hits are playing for free? Who knows. Only three original members are left, but that includes the creative core of Justin Hayward and John Lodge. August 18 at Shea’s.

The Outlaws—Why is it the members of Southern rock bands have a life expectancy about equal to that of members of the Ramones? Three of the original members are dead, and while original guitarist Henry Paul is no Hughie Thomasson, he should be able to knock out a decent 10-minute version of “Green Grass and High Tides.” August 18 at Artpark.

The Steve Miller Band—Another one you’ll have to pay for. The former blues guitarist was the last guy anyone would have expected to go pop in the 1970s, but beginning with “The Joker” in 1973 he started to churn them out like butter. He’s had the same band since the late 1980s, which includes harmonica ace Norton Buffalo. August 19 at Hamburg Fairgrounds.

Randy Bachman—As the founder of the Guess Who and Bachman Turner Overdrive, the pride of Winnipeg can lay claim to more than enough hits to fill a show. But he can be a lackluster solo performer with a penchant for second-rate backing bands. Alison Pipitone will be opening, so it’s probably worth taking the chance. August 21 at Lockport Canal Concert Series.

Journey—I saw these guys in 1976 opening for ELO and they weren’t bad. Then they hired a new singer and it was all downhill. The singer’s gone, but his replacement is a clone, so don’t expect much. (I always get a big laugh out of the shot where they all play “air instruments” in their “Separate Ways” video.) August 28 at Darien Lake.

Eric Burdon and the Animals—One last show to end the summer. Bear in mind that “The Animals” is whatever backing band Burdon is currently working with, and they’re highly unlikely to do “Spill the Wine.” September 8 at Hamburg Fairgrounds.

Caveat EmptorThe Lovin’ Spoonful (June 13, Fallsview Casino) features the original bass player and drummer, but without John Sebastian or at least the late Zal Yanovsky, what’s the point? (And I say that as a fan of replacement singer-guitarist Jerry Yester.)…If you saw the reunion tour of the Guess Who a few years ago, be aware that the band playing at Artpark on July 7 features neither Burton Cummings nor Randy Bachman, both of whom have for years regretted letting bassist Jim Kale get control of the name…Although Paul Kantner put out an album last year, Jefferson’s Tree of Liberty, featuring a number of members of the extended Jefferson Airplane/Starship tree, the band at Artpark on July 28 as Starship is strictly Mickey Thomas and backing musicians…Creedence Clearwater Revisited (August 14, Chautauqua Ampitheater) is one more band featuring only the original drummer and bassist…It’s one thing to watch what goes around calling itself the Beach Boys before or after a baseball game, but do you really want to give Mike Love your money (Chautauqua, August 21)? Let me make this perfectly clear: Brian Wilson will not be here!

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