Grand Funk Railroad Live in Oklahoma

Grand Funk Railroad
First Council Hotel & Casino
Newkirk, Oklahoma
February 20, 2016

By Jeb Wright
Live Photo by K.C. Wright

Set List:
Bottle Rocket | Rock & Roll Soul | Footstompin' Music | Shinin' On | The Loco-Motion | Second Chance | Lightning and Thunder | The Star-Spangled Banner | Walk Like a Man | Some Kind of Wonderful | I'm Your Captain (Closer to Home) | We're an American Band

The famous trio of Mark, Don and Mel has seen some changes over the years.  Mark [Farner] is long gone from this ensemble and the trio format has been upgraded to a five-piece.  The music, however, remains the same!

In 2016, Grand Funk Railroad consists of founding members Don Brewer [drums, lead vocals] and Mel Schacher [bass guitar] and current members Max Carl [lead vocals, guitar, harmonica], Tim Cashion [keyboards] and Bruce Kulick [guitar].  This format works well, as the band can recreate any song in their back catalog, live and on stage. 

The energy is abundant from the opening note. Former KISS axe-man, Bruce Kulick, puts an edge on many of the classic songs.  In fact, Kulick is a much better technical player than original member Farner, but he pays homage to Mark in all the right places. While he is true to the tunes, Bruce still finds a spot or two to wow the crowd with some fretboard heroics.  Bruce also brings a happy-go-lucky, rock ‘n’ roll attitude to the group.

Max Carl is a damn fine vocalist.  His claim to fame before GFR was a ballad by 38 Special that he wrote and performed in that band titled “Second Chance.”  The song is performed in the set, every time they play.  Every woman in the crowd sings along with every word while most guys look at their watch waiting to get back to the foot stomping music they expect from the band. That said, it is a pretty tune and Max can sure belt it out of the park.

Keyboardist Tim Cashion is fun to watch as he takes a lead guitarist attitude to his instrument.  His organ fills are saturated with that Michigan soul that has made this band such a hit.  On bass, Mel holds the low end, plucking out the simple notes and adding the right amount of ‘thump’ at all times. Nowhere is the low end more important than on the bass guitar break on “I’m You’re Captain (Closer to Home).”  

Drummer Don Brewer is the leader of this band, a job that fills his soul with sunshine.  He may be getting close to hitting that 70-year-old mark, but on stage he has the energy of a kid a quarter of his age!  He is fun to watch, his voice is freaking amazing and just when you think he’s got to be getting tired he ends the set with the iconic tune “We’re an American Band” and delivers the biggest energetic punch of the evening.  Suffice it to say one leaves a Grand Funk show with an ear-to-ear smile on one’s face.  

The band does an elongated polyrhythmic tune in the middle of the set called “Lightning and Thunder” that is really cool, but, let’s face it, the piece is a bit too darn long.  That said, it is very unique and shows another side to the band.  Once it ends, Bruce Kulick adds some heroics with an instrumental electric guitar version of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” bringing the patriot Midwest American crowd to their feet.

When a band can end its set with a trifecta of classics, then that band will have a career that lasts as long as they want it to.  Grand Funk Railroad is one such band. While they had already soldiered through a dynamic set, they pushed it even higher by closing out the evening with “Some Kind of Wonderful,” “I’m Your Captain [Closer to Home]” and “We’re an American Band.”  This is after they had already played the classics “Footstompin’ Music,” “Shinin’ On,” “The Loco-Motion” and “Walk Like a Man.”  Hitting the big three 1970s classics back, to back, to back is one hell of a way to end an evening. 

GFR is a well-oiled machine that is on a mission to keep their music alive and well.  They are energetic, talented and still pulling it off even as they approach the half century mark in the music business. 

Hats off to these five for doing what they do and doing it so well.