There’s something mildly incongruous about seeing the band Boston performing in a theater, even such a large one as the Citi Wang Theatre. Born out of guitarist-keyboardist Tom Scholz’s home-studio tinkering with the late singer Brad Delp, the band with the best-selling debut album in US history was nonetheless engineered for arenas, with its power-soaked guitar bombast and chesty vocal extravagance. But Sunday’s concert, the first of a two-night stand capping a tour celebrating the band’s 40th anniversary, proved that it’s possible to scale back Boston’s reach without diminishing its sonic heft.
Part of the reason may be that Scholz and company are, above all else, true believers. Following a harmony-guitar-laden rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the first three songs — the self-mythologizing “Rock & Roll Band,” the art-boogie of “Smokin’,” and “Feelin’ Satisfied” — all hailed the transformative power of rock music itself. So did the chiming “More Than a Feeling,” yet to come. By the time keyboardist Beth Cohen took over the lead vocals from Delp’s replacement Tommy DeCarlo on the flavorless electronic shudder of “Higher Power,” it wasn’t much of a leap to imagine that the focus of her devotion was the wall of Scholz-designed amplifiers lining the stage.
Scholz set the band’s template at the start of its career and never really budged, often seeming more interested in exploring and innovating technologically than musically. Where a lot of guitarists of his era were focused on fretwork, he was more concerned with tone, and he played his solos at the Wang with a sense not of abandon but of precision. (Even guitarist Gary Pihl played substantially Scholz’s original solo during “Long Time.”) His organ spotlight on “Get Organ-ized” found him madly flipping switches and cranking knobs, determined to hone the sound even in real time.
Still, it was hard to argue that Scholz wasn’t adept at maximizing that sound. “Get Organ-ized” was one massive extended climax that kept lifting, and “Cool the Engines” was appropriately rocket-fueled, with a weightless drive that led to the guitar proclamation of “We’re Ready.” Bolstered by the full band on backing vocals, DeCarlo’s affably burly but creamy voice was a fine substitute for Delp’s. And when Scholz and Pihl joined together for the harmony leads of “Peace of Mind” and “Something About You,” it might not have been more than a feeling, but the feeling sufficed.
At Citi Wang Theatre, Sunday (repeats Monday)Marc Hirsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.