Local favorites and national recording artists The Badlees rolled into the Wilkes-Barre area Friday evening, using their homecoming show at the Woodlands Inn & Resort in Plains Township as an opportunity to showcase new material, dig out a few old favorites and blow off some steam.
Friday's show came on the eve of a national tour with Bob Seger when The Badlees will be playing 20,000-seat arenas for the next several weeks. After recently returning from a month-long stint opening for Edwin McCain, the band appeared thrilled to be headlining a big show in the town that has adopted the band as its own. A record crowd of 1,400 was on hand.
Opening the set with the rhythm guitar-driven "Angels of Mercy," vocalist Pete Palladino's soaring vocals immediately boomed through the Grand Ballroom, setting the tone for what would be a remarkable first set.
The stomping "Nothing Much of Anything" followed, and fans were given an early listen to a stirring newly written number, "The Battle of Dick & Jane."
Two Jeff Feltenberger-penned tunes, the moving "Ore Hill" and the newly-written "34 Winters" were among the show's highlights. The latter, a despondent tale of a mid-life divorce, showcases Feltenberger's powerful and soaring backing vocals which have become an integral part of The Badlees' harmony-based sound.
Unlike their opening-act slots on tours with Gregg Allman, Page/Plant and Edwin McCain — where they've been limited to 40-minute sets featuring music from "River Songs" — The Badlees regional shows allow them to play longer sets with a wider variety of material. Here, where fans have been following the band for years, older, regionally released tunes such as "Dirty Neon Times," "Back Where We Came From" and "The Next Big Thing" were welcome and appreciated.
Selections from the nationally released "River Songs" were prevalent throughout the show, with the dynamically arranged "Bendin' The Rules" demonstrating the band's harder edge, the breezy pop flow of "Gwendolyn" offering fans the chance to dance in the ballroom and the mandolin-enhanced hit "Fear of Falling" providing the perfect ticket for a sing-along.
Palladino — telling the crowd the band was looking forward to hitting the road with Seger — led the group through the Seger classic "Old Time Rock 'n' Roll," and guitarist Bret Alexander took lead vocals on Seger's "Night Moves" and "Turn The Page." The set ended with a riveting cover of The Beatles' harmony-laced "Rain."
Enjoying the hometown spirit, the band returned for encores. Palladino, jokingly playing with the crowd, took random requests, some of which the band knew and were able to perform. After stumbling through tunes by Collective Soul and Blues Traveler, the band rolled through covers of the Allman Brothers' "Ain't Wasting Time," bluegrass favorite "Rocky Top" and a hilarious rendition of the church hymn "Kumbaya" — with Feltenberger's Elvis-like vocals and Paul Smith's high pitched squeals drawing roars from the crowd.
The show ended with a cover of a long-time Badlees' favorite, The Beatles "I've Just Seen A Face."
Although comical antics and fun-filled covers have been a common trait at the end of Badlees' shows for years, they've never out-shined or taken precedent over their own well-crafted material.
Not surprisingly, the biggest number of the evening came about midway through the set, with the performance of "Angeline Is Coming Home." Bringing an immediate roar from the crowd, the regional smash had added meaning on an evening that was clearly very special.
In what turned out being The Badlees' biggest crowd ever in Wilkes-Barre, the show also served as a video release party for the music video "Angeline Is Coming Home" — with the clip constantly being played on five TV screens in the room. Throughout the evening, a sense that things are only just beginning for these long-time area favorites was prevalent, and the idea that The Badlees may be "coming home" much less frequently was a bittersweet reality.