For a lot of years it wasn't fashionable to be a fan of Rick Springfield, unless you were a swooning teenage girl.
Rock snobs and insecure males everywhere dissed the musician/General Hospital heart-throb during the height of his musical success in the Reagan Years. But with that teen-idol stigma packed away in the old Pop Culture Hope Chest like a beat-up high school yearbook, the music he made stands the test of time surprisingly well.
Listening to his 1981 watershed record Working Class Dog (with its inescapably brilliant hit single, "Jessie's Girl") just cements this hypothesis. Pound for pound, it's one of the best power-pop records of its day, easily the equal in bright hooks and energy of anything the Plimsouls or Cheap Trick put out at the time (that's high praise indeed coming from this affirmed Cheap Trick nerd).
He gave his rock more polish and gloss than the aforementioned two outfits, but avoided Journey's strident hamminess and Bon Jovi's truly loathsome working-class-hair-metal poseurdom. He was smart enough to brilliantly cover the only good song Sammy Hagar ever wrote. And while he wasn't exactly Elvis Costello or John Lennon, the then-thirty-something Springfield wrote lyrics that felt a little smarter and more grown up than a lot of his peers. Yes, admit it, people: Rick Springfield kinda rocked.
And he still does, a fact duly noted by Rita and I as we watched Springfield in concert at the Emerald Queen Casino's I-5 Showroom on November 3. Snicker under your breath at the venue all you like, but there's no denying that the still-active soap-opera star put on a helluva show. The swooning women in the audience got an eyeful of their idol looking better than any 58-year-old man has any right to look, and those of us there for the actual music/concert end of it got some punchy pop-rock delivered with a lot of energy and showmanship--win-win all the way.
Springfield and his low-key but tight backup band opened with two hard-rocking new songs, then packed the remainder of the near two-hour show with liberal doses of classic chestnuts. The frontman bounded across the stage with the energy of a guy half his age, and played the old hits like he meant 'em (though stringing four or five of them together medley-style did smack of impatience). The man also seriously scorched on his six-string: at one point, he used one audience member's cel phone as a slide and fired off some wicked slide guitar riffs. All the way, he worked the crowd with the ease and aplomb of an old pro.
Rita hit the merch table after the show for not one, but two live DVDs, and we also picked up one of Springfield's recent, independently-released CDs (Shock/Denial/Anger/Acceptance, from 2004). The latter shows Springfield gracefully outfitting his signature sound with modern technology and a little post-grunge roar for seasoning, and he's even got the good taste to lay down a ripping cover version of the Easybeats' garage-pop classic, "Make You Happy." Loverboy, Bon Jovi, Sammy Hagar, and Journey should be so cool.