At first it might seem both counterintuitive and counterproductive that the frontman of one of the most influential hard rock bands bill his Oct. 30 trio gig at the Cutting Room as Mark Farner’s American Band Acoustic.
But Farner has actually played in unplugged formats many times over the years, and while it’s always great to have heavy drums and loud guitars on his seminal Grand Funk Railroad material, he proved once again that it’s not necessary.
Starting appropriately with “Are You Ready,” the lead track from Grand Funk’s 1969 debut album On Time, the focus of Farner’s American Band Acoustic remained rightly on his voice, still an under-appreciated high point in blue-eyed soul singing. Indeed, Farner cited his favorite singer Howard Tate prior to doing the late soul vocal great good in covering his “How Come My Bulldog Don’t Bark,” then merging directly into one of Grand Funk’s best pop-soul hits, “Bad Time.”
Tate’s “Get It While You Can” was famously covered by Janis Joplin, and Farner lovingly recalled how Joplin and Grand Funk used to stay and watch each other’s sets when appearing on bills together. He spoke reverently, too, of his favorite guitarist, Jimi Hendrix, who, he recalled, coaxed him into a backstage snort at a Staten Island festival that incapacitated them both.
No slouch himself on guitar, Farner got plenty of sound out of a new acoustic Taylor, switching occasionally to keyboard—the only electric instrument. He was assisted by guitarist Dusty D’Annunzio, who supplied splendid slide play on Grand Funk’s “Little Johnny Hooker” (and singing on Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition”), and longtime bass guitarist Lawrence Buckner, who sang “Some Kind of Wonderful,” the 1967 Soul Brothers Six hit that was a bigger one for Grand Funk in 1974.
Other Grand Funk hits included “Mean Mistreater,” “Mr. Limousine Driver” and the chart-topping 1974 cover of Little Eva’s “The Loco-Motion,” this aided by major audience vocal backing. But one other cover—which Grand Funk did not do—was among the show’s stoppers: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s 1970s protest anthem commemorating the Kent State killings, “Ohio.”
“We can never forget. We can never let this happen again—ever!” admonished Farner, who then placed his hand on his heart in acknowledging the applause.
Grand Funk Railroad had actually released an antiwar single, “People, Let’s Stop the War,” in 1971. But Farner, wearing a huge cross obscuring the image on his t-shirt, is also supportive of American soldiers, and likewise singled them out with a non-judgmental tribute prior to Grand Funk’s signature “I’m Your Captain (Closer to Home).”
“I don’t care where you’re stationed, the caliber of your weapon, your number of tattoos,” he said. “You’re somebody’s baby!”
He conducted the crowd chorale on the “I’m getting closer to my home” chorus, and with a voice as strong as it was in 1970, hit the high note “home” wail at the end. Nearing 50 years later, Mark Farner had definitely kept the faith.
Acoustic "Mean Mistreater"