Sunday, July 19, 2015

America delivers enduring hits to kick off Pacific Amphitheatre Summer Concert Series

Dewey Bunnell, left, and Gerry Beckley of America at Pacific Amphitheatre on July 16, 2015.
Photo: Kelly A. Swift


There is something to be said for a classic rock group that has performed about 100 shows a year for 45 years and is still able to challenge itself while serving up a healthy dose of nostalgia for fans.
America made that case in winning fashion on Thursday night (July 16, 2015), performing a 70-minute set with Orange County’s own Pacific Symphony to kick off the 2015 Toyota Summer Concert Series at Pacific Amphitheatre on the eve of the opening of the Orange County Fair’s annual summer run in Costa Mesa.
While the group’s set list featured all the hits that founding members Dewey Bunnell (lead vocals, guitar) and Gerry Beckley (lead vocals, keyboards, guitar) and company delivered at a decidedly more intimate concert at the Coach House in December, the artful addition of a full orchestra allowed oft-heard classics to shine anew.
On the breezy opener “Tin Man,” a lovely orchestral arrangement opened the song before the folk rock-styled song emerged in classic form. Throughout the fast-paced concert, Bunnell and Beckley both had a chance to handle lead vocals and harmonies while supported by a terrific three-man band (including Orange County’s own Ryland Steen on drums).
America’s best-known songs have blended folk rock and a touch of Americana and with that sound back big time (look no further than the recent success of outfits such as the Civil Wars, the Milk Carton Kids and the Lone Bellow), there was an energy and approach that defied America's decades-long path. The fact the ensemble was performing on a wonderful summer night under the stars didn't hurt too.
Apart from the hits sprinkled throughout the set, America delivered some potent deeper tracks including the bluegrass-tinged “Don't Cross the River” (featuring lead guitarist Andy Barr playing banjo this time around), and “Old Man Took” (with its swelling use of the orchestra) being early standouts. Later, a soaring cover of the Mamas & the Papas’ “California Dreamin’” and a performance of the rarely heard "The Last Unicorn" (a Jimmy Webb-penned song performed by America in the animated movie of the same name in 1982) were welcome additions to the set.
The biggest sonic departure came when America charged up and rocked (yes, rocked) on their early ’80s song “The Border,” which found both Bunnell and Beckley delivering memorable lead guitar work, with the orchestra adding even additional muscle to the nugget.
Of course this being a night where the majority of fans wanted to hear hits, it was the performance of radio favorites such as a tender “I Need You,” spirited “You Can Do Magic,” and beguiling “Sister Golden Hair” that kept the crowd fully engaged. The encore-fitting "A Horse With No Name" found Bunnell delivering the wistful lead vocals while Beckley played shimmering textures on his 12-string Rickenbacker guitar.

Please note this review and photo was originally posted on The Orange County Register Web site on Friday, July 17, 2015.

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