Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Return to Forever

When: Thursday, June 19, 2008 • Where: OrpheumWho: The original Return to Forever: Chick Corea, piano and keyboards; Al Di Meola, guitar; Stanley Clarke, bass; Lenny White, drums

I never got into Return to Forever.
I don’t own a single RTF CD, not even an LP. But their 2008 reunion tour is a very big deal, selling lots of tickets and getting rave reviews. So we buy the least expensive tickets available ($45 nosebleed seats, second to last row in the balcony in a hall that holds 2600) and bring our binoculars.

What have they been doing in the 25 years since they disbanded? White tells us: "Stanley has been mowing lawns. I've had a paper route. Chick is doing some teaching, and Al is making pasta."

The stage is a thicket of wires and control boards. White sits behind plexi panels in the back; Corea is encircled by keyboards, like Oz the Great and Terrible. Di Meola looks small compared to Clarke, who looks very tall. The music is loud, the light show trippy, and the crowd ecstatic, all except for the row right behind us (the very last row in the balcony) which keeps up a constant stream of chatter in German. (Note to self: Learn to say “Would you mind awfully much shutting your pie hole?” in several languages.) I don't know any of the tunes they play. Drums pound and guitars wail and keyboards go eeee-ooo-eeee. I'm bored. I think about the times when I’ve seen Corea at the Dakota, and Di Meola, and how much I enjoyed them. We leave at intermission.

P.S. I heard later from people who stayed that the second set was completely different, all-acoustic, transcendent and indelible. Oh well.

Photos by John Whiting. Top photo taken from the very back of the hall by a man with a steady hand.


  1. I saw RTF in Miami July 30. I was not a fan of this particular incarnation of the band back in the day, but I like all of the players to varying degrees with Chick and Stanley standing way above the others. Stanley literally stands above the others at 6'5" and Di Meola looks Smurfy hiding behind the Plexiglass barrier to shield his ears from thundering Lenny, who, to his credit, was tasteful. Lots of lights and smoke on the stage and a fair amount of funny smoke in the hall!

    The first set was plugged-in and LOUD. I felt my liver vibrating. The engineer got things under control after two "tunes" (what, no sound check?) and happily I was not deaf at intermission. Stanley Clarke stole the show.

    The second set was acoustic, except for the encore and typical closer, The Duel of the Tyrant and the Jester; and the set featured each player individually, often alone on the stage. Di Meola has great technique, can play really fast, but left me a bit cold. I was looking for Flamenco dancers. Lenny played a suberbly constructed and musical solo, Chick was magnificent with shades of Mozart, and Stanley was mesmerizing as usual, looking more like a matador than a musician as he caressed and dominated his acoustic bass. He drove the audience crazy. (He can play faster than Al, too, and cleaner). He is a player that has to be seen.

    Overall, I would say that each player has matured considerably and improved the band immeasurably over the years. The records are nearly unlistenable, but especially after seeing RTF live. You do need to stay for the second set, however.

  2. Thank you, Ron. Nice write-up. Many people have told me I should have stayed for the second set. If only RTF had performed the second set first!


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