CD Review: The Ides of March - Last Band Standing

Chicago veterans release their definitive, 50th anniversary collection
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50 years ago, a group of teenagers from Berwyn, IL, comprised of Jim Peterik, Bob Bergland, Larry Millas and Mike Borch took their love of rock and roll and followed the lead of countless other teens during those glory years of rock and formed a band. Initially, they were named The Shondells, but not long after changed their name to The Ides Of March. By 1970, they had a massive hit single with "Vehicle" and were opening for the likes of Led Zeppelin. More success followed, but by 1973, the band had broken up, with Peterik going on to cofound Survivor as well as co-write songs for the likes of 38 Special and Sammy Hagar. In 1990, the Ides reunited and have been together ever since. To celebrate their 50th anniversary, the band has released a five-disc box set titled Last Band Standing.

While disc one is comprised mainly of the group's early, pre-"Vehicle" singles; it also includes three new tracks, including the title track, a Stax-inspired number with Steve Cropper on guitar no less. The track celebrates the band's history and Peterik gives a gritty vocal. It's interesting to hear the band's sound progress throughout disc one. Where a track like "Like It Or Lump It" sounds like 60s garage rock, songs such as "Train Of Love" have a jangly guitar sound and big vocals reminiscent of The Byrds. By "Strawberry Sunday," the band was knee deep in psychedelic rock. Throughout it all, the band's melodic sense is present, however and, in spite of the different styles, it all sounds like it was written by the same band.

Disc two includes material from the Vehicle and Common Bond albums and opens with the mono single mix of "Vehicle." The sound is great here and throughout, with the horns really standing out in the mix. By this point, the band's sound had a lot more in common with Blood Sweat and Tears and Chicago and it is here where the band really hit its stride. As a fun bonus, a Pepsi commercial using "Vehicle" is also included.

The band stretches out on a pair of well-chosen covers. "Symphony For Eleanor (Eleanor Rigby)" finds the group turning the classic pop song into an almost 10-minute opus while "Wooden Ships-Dharma For One" finds the band blending their signature horn sound over tribal drumming, while managing to cover Crosby, Stills & Nash and Jethro Tull on the same track. While it may seem an odd mix, it works.

Disc three features many tracks from the band's RCA years making their digital debut, as well as some live cuts from across the group's career. Millas handles lead vocals on the piano-driven power ballad "Flipside" while "Roadie Ode" showcases a country side of the band with pedal steel and Dobro by Rusty Young. Disc four focuses on reunion-era Ides and includes the strong pop of "Spirit of Chicago," with guest appearances by such Chicago luminaries as Dennis DeYoung of Styx, Frankie Sullivan from Survivor and Rick Nielsen from Cheap Trick. "One Hit Wonder" showcases the group's sense of humor and name checks countless one and done bands

Disc five is a live DVD filmed at the House of Blues in Chicago in 2014. Besides the Ides of March hits, the band gives the Ides treatment to several of Peterik's other songs, including Sammy Hagar's "Heavy Metal" - played in drop d tuning no less, a 38 Special medley including "Caught Up In You" and "Hold On Loosely" and, of course, "Eye Of The Tiger." Bonus features include the video for "Last Band Standing," archival footage from the 1970s and "Vehicle" live featuring Buddy Guy. Great stuff.

Last Band Standing bills itself as the definitive 50-year anniversary collection and it's hard to argue with that claim. From the early singles to the Warner Brothers years to the RCA songs being released digitally for the first time, not to mention the underrated later years and the DVD, there is something for everyone here. Well worth owning for Ides fans.