Before he and his five-piece band performed “Share the Land,” the finale of their two-hour set Wednesday night at Knuckleheads, Burton Cummings preached to his audience of more than 500 people.
“Don’t forget how lucky you are to live in this part of the world,” he said. Then, after proudly declaring his age — he turned 67 in December — he proclaimed himself one of the luckiest people in the world and a man of wealth. His fortune? Being able to make living in music for nearly half a century.
Wednesday’s show was a revival and a showcase of the Guess Who, the band from Manitoba, Canada, that put five singles into the Top 10 in 1969-70. Cummings advised the crowd that his were the legitimate versions of those songs, not the group touring as Guess Who, which he called a “karaoke” band.
He makes a good point. Cummings hardly looks his age, thanks to his mop of dark hair (which he admitted gets some color assistance) and his Tom Selleck mustache. And he still has that inimitable voice, which has lost little range, power or agility over the years. So it effortlessly handled songs he has been singing since the mid-1960s, such as “No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature,” which opened the show.
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After that came a tide of hits and favorites: “Clap for the Wolfman,” dedicated to the TV variety show “The Midnight Special” and Wolfman Jack, the show’s host.
The show was a revelation: of Guess Who’s deep catalog and of Cummings’ skills as a musician. He’s a virtuoso on the keyboards, and he’s also a skillful rhythm guitarist and blues harpist. And he delivered perfectly his jazzy flute solo on “Undun,” a Guess Who B-side that was one of the show’s many highlights.
He tossed in some covers: Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away”; “Mack the Knife,” performed solo at the keys; the Equals’ “Baby Come Back”; and “Louie Louie,” the other encore. All were delivered with power and polish from a band that included Jeff Jones, the original bassist in Rush and formerly of Ocean, who had the 1971 hit “Put Your Hand in the Hand.”
Cummings performed his most popular solo hit, “Stand Tall,” but the Guess Who songs resonated deepest, even lesser-known numbers like “Runnin’ Back to Saskatoon,” during which the band showed off its rock chops.
They ended the first set with both parts of “American Woman,” which got the crowded dance floor moving, then “No Time.” Just as that ended, a train roared by and sounded its whistle, and Cummings pumped a fist and beamed, looking like the happiest and luckiest guy in the place.
No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature; Clap for the Wolfman; Hand Me Down World; Albert Flasher; Laughing; Not Fade Away; Mack the Knife; My Own Way to Rock; These Eyes; Undun; Runnin’ Back to Saskatoon; Stand Tall; Star Baby; Baby Come Back; Break it to Them Gently; American Woman (Parts I and II); No Time; Louie Louie; Share the Land.