Kicking off with a double shot of “Rock & Roll Soul” and “Footstompin’ Music” provided enough of a teaser to let the crowd know that there was plenty of both of those things on tap for the legendary group’s first show back.
In the days before the performance, drummer and vocalist Don Brewer, a founding member of the band, noted that it had taken a good amount of preparation to get back in the regular flow. “Being off this long, you kind of get out of that mindset of touring,” he chuckled, during an interview with UCR. “Before, it was kind of routine and now, it’s like, ‘Oh my God, what have I got to do?’”
They booked the amphitheater for a couple of extra days leading up to Friday’s return — and even prior to rehearsal, Brewer felt good that they’d be in a solid place once they hit the stage. If anything, he knew what to look out for. “I’ve gone through some breaks before. You think you’re prepared until you actually get up there and you realize, ‘Oh my God, this takes a lot more energy and a lot more strength than I realized’,” he explains. “When you’re doing it night after night and week after week, it just becomes second hand. It will be interesting, but I do think that everybody will be prepared.”
“I don’t want to over-rehearse. Being off this length of time, we’re going to have to be very careful, especially with Max [Carl]’s vocals and my vocal,” he continued, adding with a husky laugh, “We’ll walk our way through. I’m hoping that it will be like riding a bike.”
Guitarist Bruce Kulick checked in with UCR for a separate interview after they had played the Georgia gig. He says it was very hard to pack and organize what was needed for the road — which says a lot, considering just how many times the veteran musician has gone out on tour over the years.
Even dealing with the airport for the first time in 15 months brought some additional stress. “I didn’t know what to expect with the airlines, and it was my first flight as well since the pandemic,” he says.
“Since we had two days at the venue to rehearse, that was very helpful making it feel more like nothing happened,” he reports. “On show night the adrenaline kicked in, and although I was a bit more nervous than usual, I was excited to finally perform live in front of a sold out crowd.”
The fans infused the evening with extra energy, according to Kulick. “The people make you want to entertain, and the band was in a groove rather quickly on stage,” he says. “The big difference was all that time not doing what we did so often for 20 years together. So it was us being “rusty” in a way, and now we’re getting the oil can out and taking a bath in it!”
And then there’s the music, of course — Grand Funk come armed with a hefty stack of familiar hits that have chiseled their place in history. “I really love ‘Some Kind of Wonderful’ since everyone knows it and you have to move your body when you hear it,” Kulick says.
The set swelled at the midpoint as Brewer and original bassist Mel Schacher jammed with Kulick during Brewer’s drum solo.
Kulick took the lead after that, performing his rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner,” which crossed over into the band’s version of “Inside Looking Out” by the Animals, as found on their 1969 Grand Funk album.
“There’s lots of guitar playing there,” he says, regarding the pairing of the two. And ‘Closer to Home (I’m Your Captain)’ is so epic. Ending the night with Don singing ‘We’re an American Band‘ brings down the house!”
Kulick rehearsed at home for nearly two weeks in advance of his return to the road. “I’d run through half a show one day and the second half of the show the next playing along with a live concert recorded in 2012,” he explains. “I told Don during that time, ‘Wow, we play some kick ass music, and it’s not an easy show, but I am just getting better and better at it with my at home practice.’ Don would jam to the show constantly, he couldn’t wait to get out there again!”
With million mile status on several major airlines, the pandemic break was the longest time at home for Kulick, who has been touring with very few breaks in the action since 1975, including the past 20 years of flying to gigs with Grand Funk Railroad.
He took advantage of his time at home. “I was super active with recording, being creative and very active on social media with my fans,” he says. “I did do two big virtual performances and did sessions for various artists including Chris Jericho.”
Kulick learned how to edit video on iMovie and worked on a number of projects, including a tribute to his brother Bob, who passed away in 2020 from heart disease. He also became proficient at recording guitar at home. “So much was discovered that I never had the time to do before, and I love everything about my new ways of becoming creative,” he shares. “In addition I was very active on Cameo — and popular — and gave guitar lessons and pro advice on MeetHook, all things which many fans love.”
He stayed hopeful throughout the pandemic that Grand Funk would eventually return to the road. “Don would keep in touch constantly, and the desire was always there,” Kulick says. “The vaccine made me know it would happen. When, I wasn’t sure, but thank God it’s here. We’re doing it!”