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George Bensonal Jarreau

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George Bensonal Jarreau

Pine Knob

"Bad" George Benson's band, featuring Phil Upchurch on second lead and rhythm guitars and Ronnie Foster on a variety of electronic keyboards, is an extremely tight and seasoned group. Upchurch, a session man always in demand as a bass player, in recent years has stepped to the forefront as a guitarist. The exchanges he got into with Benson were the highlight of the evening.

A crowd of 5,000-plus watched as Benson hit the stage, strapped on his Gibson hollow body, and broke into a version of the pop hit "Dance With Me," followed by Foster's composition "Lady" (from the Breezin' Lp) and a "rock and roll jam," but with these musicians it was hardly your standard, four-chords-with-a-boogie-beat. Benson, Foster, and Upchurch all stepped up front for their solo licks while their rhythm section provided a solid and unwavering bottom.

George Harrison's "Here Comes the Sun" (from The Other Side of Abbey Road Lp) began as a slow bailad, and then, abruptly and without warning, changed to a superbly funky jam. Benson's guitar and vocal exhortations and Foster's spacey Moog solo brought the crowd to their feet.

"Summertime" changed the mood from fever-pitch to laidback. "Masquerade" (Benson's biggie) was last, of course, and it got the hoped-for reaction- a relentless demand for "More!" The band returned for an energetic treatment of "White Rabbit."

Unfortunately, I didn't anticipate the traffic tie-up upon entering Pine Knob Country consequently I missed the first half of opener Al Jarreau's set. Jarreau's popular fusiĆ³n of soul and azz vocal styles was supported by a very fine threepiece band (bass, drums, Fender Rhodes piano) and was received very warmly by the crowd, which demanded a couple of encores. Jarreau returns to the area next month.

-Jim Tomlinson