Live Review: 15 Years In, Jim Peterik’s World Stage Strong As Ever

Published on January 27th, 2015

Jim Peterik's World Stage // Naperville, IL // Wentz Concert HallJim Peterik’s World Stage at the Wentz Concert Hall in Naperville, I.L. on January 24, 2015

NAPERVILLE, I.L. – It isn’t easy to catch Jim Peterik at a quiet moment. The energetic songwriting legend behind some of the biggest selling hits of the last 45 years runs circles around artists half his age with a feverish schedule of writing, recording, playing, and teaching music.

This frenzied pace reaches a zenith each year in the form of World Stage, the annual all-star rock concert phenomenon orchestrated and created by Peterik, which celebrated its 15th year on Saturday night.

Sitting in his dressing room in the basement of the Wentz Concert Hall less than 30 minutes before the show, it seems there is a rare moment of peace for the singer and guitarist. But it’s only temporary. Upstairs, an army of musicians and crew are scurrying to ready a four-hour marathon concert which will feature some of the biggest voices of rock’s golden era.

Mike Reno, the powerhouse lead singer of Loverboy, has just arrived back on site after a break following the afternoon’s rehearsal. Toto’s longtime frontman Bobby Kimball won’t be far behind him.

There’s a knock at the door of Peterik’s dressing room. The two-page set list needs its final tweaks.

“I have a great team that makes me look really good,” he insists. “My main objective is to keep the morale great, and just be that guy with the confidence to herd the kittens all over the stage, get rehearsal moving, and motivate people to do their best.”

While the mechanics of the event are now handled by a loyal crew, Peterik used to pick up his guest musicians at the airport himself.

“That’s no fun. Now I can just concentrate on the music and getting the best out of the band.”

World Stage has changed venues and lineups many times, but the event has become an institution in the concert world, known for consistently drawing a who’s who of star musicians year after year. While the concept of an all-star concert is not new, they ordinarily don’t last 15 years.

But Peterik is no ordinary musician.

After forming the Ides of March as a teenager, Peterik went to number one as the founder of the pioneering melodic rock group Survivor and the author of their hit heard around the world, “Eye of the Tiger”. As a songwriter in the 1980s and the decades that followed, he played a part in the careers of 38 Special, Sammy Hagar, the Doobie Brothers, Cheap Trick, Lynyrd Skynyrd, REO Speedwagon, and the Beach Boys to name a few.

But being the man who knows everyone in the music business is only half of the story.

Peterik’s generous spirit and joyful personality make him a natural uniter of people, and his workmanlike attitude is legend in the music industry.

“Jim is unbelievable. When he gets on a project, he is the guy logging endless hours in the studio,” says Tim Bales, who plays trumpet in the current Ides of March.

When asked, Peterik acknowledges his role as the glue that holds so many in the rock industry together, and says part of World Stage’s secret to success is that egos must be checked at the door.

“I never burn bridges. I like to build bridges,” he reveals. “You won’t see any competition up there on stage. We’re all out for each other, supporting each other. And anyone who isn’t of that frame of mind? I don’t ask them back again. They have got to have that mindset of ‘all for one, one for all’. We’re all in it for the same thing, and that’s connecting with people through our music.”

30 minutes later, Peterik kicks off the evening with literal approach to connecting with his audience.

He walks out of backstage through a narrow hallway, bursting into the venue’s foyer where surprised ticket holders are greeted by the headline entertainment as they walk to their seats. Continuing on to the back of the concert hall, he begins riffing on his guitar as he walks toward the stage and the lights dim. Fans clamor to grab their phones in time to seize the rare photo opportunity as he wades deep into several rows of seats.

Photo Slideshow: Jim Peterik

With his tuft of purple hair, antique lavender-tinted glasses, silver moccasins, and an intricate silver jacket he helped design himself, it’s impossible not to want to snag a photo of Peterik.

His creative mind seems to constantly be turning with new ideas in music, fashion, and staging.

“I had this vision of starting from the back of the auditorium and playing that riff [to his new composition, "Music Messenger"],” he would recall after the show. “And people would go ‘hey, there’s Peterik, back there!’”

Combining his strong and resonant voice with the full backing of the World Stage band, Peterik sets the bar high with a tight, three-song set culminating in Survivor’s 1985 smash “Burning Heart”.

On stage, he smiles constantly when not grinding out a menacing guitar riff.

Photo Slideshow: PRIDE OF LIONS

Wasting little time between sets, the addition of Toby Hitchcock as a dual vocalist means the stage is now turned over to Pride of Lions, a 2003 brainchild of Peterik’s which has since become an internationally acclaimed melodic rock act.

Hitchcock, the youngest of the evening’s guests, is a vocal force to be reckoned with.

As he reaches stratospheric notes, Peterik looks on with amazement.

The dramatic “Gone” quickly becomes a highlight of the evening, sounding like a perfect copy of its studio-recorded counterpart.

Later, Hitchcock is invited to sing a rare ballad culled from Peterik’s Survivor catalog – “Man Against the World”. Peterik explains the song’s emotional lyrics are a tribute to the late Survivor vocalist Jimi Jamison, who died unexpectedly in August 2014.

Photo Slideshow: MIKE RENO

It’s Mike Reno’s turn next, and the Loverboy singer brings yet another wave of energy to the stage with the anthemic “Lovin’ Every Minute of It”.

“Everyone still asks about those red leather pants,” Reno admits.

While he may have traded in those flashy leggings for more practical dark jeans, he’s held onto his potent voice. On “Turn Me Loose”, the Canadian singer raised goosebumps with his razor-sharp scream at the song’s climax.

Reno also demonstrated World Stage’s unique ability to also appeal to both casual and devoted music fans. In addition to offering a series of Loverboy hits, he invited Jefferson Starship vocalist Cathy Richardson on stage to duet on “Almost Paradise”, pulled from the soundtrack of 1984′s Footloose.

Reno has only performed the song a handful of times, with the most recent occasion being an intimate gathering at his 60th birthday party.

In rehearsals earlier that day, it became clear the song was a natural fit for Reno and Richardson. Both vocalists share an admiration for Heart vocalist Ann Wilson, who was Reno’s original duet partner for the song.

Photo Slideshow: CATHY RICHARDSON

Cathy Richardson returned to the stage as the fourth and final guest for the evening’s first half.

The powerhouse Jefferson Starship singer dialed the time machine back two decades, bringing her own unique stylings to iconic psychedelic classics “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love”.

Photo Slideshow: THE IDES OF MARCH

The band that started it all, the Ides of March, ushered in the second half with the bright vocal harmonies of Peterik, bassist Bob Bergland, and guitarist Larry Millas. Known by their hometown as Berwyn’s favorite sons, the group celebrated their 50th anniversary last year by filming a live CD and DVD titled “Last Band Standing”.

It is remarkable watching the original members interact on stage all these years later, while sounding as if no time has passed at all on songs like “L.A. Goodbye”.

In their sixth decade, the Ides join the ranks of rock luminaries like the Rolling Stones and the Who in establishing a new precedent for longevity.

Canadian blues guitarist Anthony Gomes followed the Ides with a sizzling jam session which at one point evolved into dueling guitars with Peterik.

Like Hitchcock and Richardson, Gomes is younger than the other guest stars but carries the sound of a musician with decades of skill blending elements of blues, rock, and soul.

Photo Slideshow: RIK EMMETT

In the 1980s, Canadian superstar act Triumph reigned supreme over the airwaves with their powerful blend of progressive rock and AOR. The soaring, angelic voice on those recordings belongs to Rik Emmett, who surprisingly emerged on the World Stage to first deliver a finger-picking guitar piece.

But shortly after, he proved he still has the magical pipes it takes to deliver such classics as “Magic Power” and “Lay It on the Line”, two Triumph staples which sounded richer than ever with the backing of Peterik and his tight band.

Since Triumph has not performed since 2008 and Emmett remains a rather elusive solo performer focusing mostly on acoustic shows, hearing his pristine voice reaching the high notes on these songs, atop the driving guitar as heard on the original recordings, was as surprising as it was thrilling.

Emmett left the crowd in a state of awe, providing him more than one standing ovation and practically begging him not to leave the stage.

Photo Slideshow: BOBBY KIMBALL

“Would you cheer up already?” is the question Jim Peterik jokingly asks Toto singer Bobby Kimball as he bounds out on stage with a mile-wide grin. If Peterik is the nicest musician in the business, Kimball is the happiest. While hitting notes nothing short of amazing for a man nearing 70, he could hardly contain his sense of humor.

At one point between the verses of “Africa”, Kimball took notice of several black tufts falling off Peterik’s black feather coat and pretended they were edible.

And then, he gave the one-liner of the evening.

“I was told your name was Jim Peterik,” he joked. “But it’s actually Jim Feather-ik!”

Kimball left the stage far too soon after bringing down the house with “Rosanna”.

On this Toto classic, Peterik’s deeper register was uncanny in its perfection as a substitute for the lyrics originally handled by Steve Lukather, while Kimball’s voice soared like a bird.

Photo Slideshow: ALL-STAR JAM

The highlight of World Stage, of course, is what has become known as the “All-Star Jam”.

Nearly every guest singer of the evening returned for a grand finale which took the form of the monster Ides of March hit “Vehicle”, and the Survivor smash “Eye of the Tiger”.

Peterik brought the show full circle by returning to where he started – deep in the crowd – to deliver the searing ‘Tiger’ riffs, while guest stars Kimball, Emmett, Richardson, Hitchcock, and Gomes held court on stage alongside the Ides of March and the World Stage band.

Counting the number of musicians on stage at this point is a nearly impossible task.

By the time the final bow is taken, it’s difficult not to become swept up in the uniqueness of the event. The packed crowd stammers out of the venue, and most appear to be in sheer bliss from what they just experienced. Many audience members wait in the foyer for a meet and greet with Peterik and his special guests.

Backstage, Peterik has a crowd of his own gathering to congratulate him on pulling off another successful show.

No one knows how many more World Stages are in his future, but he shows no signs of slowing down.

His son Colin, a talented singer and producer in his own right who sings background vocals for World Stage, seems to keep his father even more vital and energized.

“Sometimes I catch myself looking over at him standing on stage with me and I can’t help but be filled with pride,” Peterik admits.

Keep up with Jim Peterik on his official Facebook page, and official website.

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