Sunday, November 13, 2016

America thrills capacity crowd at the Coach House

America delivered a mix of enduring hits and infectious rockers
at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano on Nov. 11, 2016.
Photo: Robert Kinsler
With: Painbirds
Where: The Coach House, San Juan Capistrano
Next: The Saban Theater in Beverly Hills, CA, on Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016 

In recent years, a revitalized America has delivered a number of memorable concerts in Orange County, including a genuinely thrilling appearance with Orange County's own Pacific Symphony to kick off the Orange County Fair's summer concert season at the Pacific Amphitheatre in July 2015 (Read my review of that performance here).
Dewey Bunnell, left, and Gerry Beckley led America
through a terrific set at the Coach House on Friday,
Nov. 11, 2016. Photo: Robert Kinsler

On Friday night, Nov. 11, 2016, founding members Dewey Bunnell (lead vocals, guitar) and Gerry Beckley (lead vocals, keyboards, guitar) returned to the Coach House to headline at the first of two sold-out nights at the San Juan Capistrano venue. The good news is that the '70s hit makers continue to find new life in their classic discography, assisted by a particularly-strong touring band comprised of bassist Richard Campbell, lead guitarist Andy Barr and drummer Ryland Steen (an OC local who was a long-time member of the ska band Reel Big Fish). 

Those who only have a casual interest in America would have been somewhat surprised if they had been at the Coach House on Friday. To be sure, the group's set spanning the spirited opener "Tin Man" to a rousing sing-along finish with "A Horse With No Name" 90 minutes later, featured America's classic mix of folk, rock and pop. But the perception of America as creators of strictly lightweight, acoustic-styled '70s material was quickly cast aside via a 20-song set that really allowed the band to showcase its bona fide rock chops amidst all those sweet harmonies.  

Even a take of the group's second offering of the night, a pass through the 1982 pop hit "You Can Do Magic," was enhanced by Steen's propulsive work behind the kit. But it was in America's more subsequent material that was even more impressive. With Beckley working a 12-string acoustic guitar and Barr adding textures on a banjo, the Americana-styled "Don't Cross the River" was a early highlight, as was the driving folk rocker "Riverside" that was bolstered by Beckley's lead guitar work.
From left, Dewey Bunnell and Gerry Beckley jam
with lead guitarist Andy Barr on Nov. 11, 2016.
Photo: Robert Kinsler

"Here" was one of the more ambitious tracks of the night, with its slow artful build to full-scale rocker complete with blistering lead guitar and bass solos, before the song dynamics descended back into folk textures. "Hollywood" was equally powerful, with America delivering a lush symphony of vocals and Laurel Canyon rock textures. "That was dangerously close to jamming," Beckley said after the song ended. "Green Monkey" was another harder offering, with Beckley, Bunnell and Barr all wielding electric guitars for a psychedelic rock attack.

America performed the majority of its hits, including the tender "I Need You," the breezy "Ventura Highway," a wistful version of "Lonely People" (penned by the fellow America founding member Dan Peek, who died in July 2011) and infectious "Sister Golden Hair" (featuring distinctive slide guitar work from Barr) with nostalgic perfection.
The Painbirds opened for America at the Coach
House on Friday, Nov. 11. Photo: David Bro

Opening the show were Painbirds, a quintet featuring guitarist-bassist Charlie Colin (an original member of Train) and singer-guitarist Tom Luce. The group scored big cheers for stellar acoustic-styled versions of the Train hits "Drops of Jupiter" and "Calling All Angels," but mined equally-strong original songwriting instincts with the beautiful "First Big Flight" and "Rain and Sun." The members of Painbirds came on stage at the end of the rewarding night for a collective performance with America of "A Horse With No Name."

Please note this is a longer version of Robert Kinsler's review that ran on The Orange County Register Web site on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016. You can see that review by clicking here.

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