Monday, December 08, 2014

America delivers the goods at the Coach House

My review originally ran on The Orange County Register Web site on Sunday, Dec. 7, 2014. A special thank you to Kelly A. Swift for the use of her outstanding photos!

Dewey Bunnell, left, and Gerry Beckley of America perform at the Coach House on Saturday.

America delivers the goods at the Coach House

The ’70s hit makers’ dynamic set shows why their music continues to resonate.

While it seems unlikely that America will be given a place in the Rock and Roll of Fame anytime soon, there is something to be said for a band that has scored a number of enduring hits, won a best new artist Grammy Award, worked with producer George Martin and influenced several generations of other musicians.
Performing in front of a capacity crowd at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano on Saturday night (Dec. 6, 2014), the ’70s hit makers proved that while several musical generations have passed since their 1971 debut introduced the world to “A Horse With No Name” and “I Need You,” the group’s mix of folk, rock and pop continues to resound, thanks as much to the strength of good songwriting as bona fide nostalgia.
From the concert’s spirited folk rock opener, “Tin Man,” through a mix of hits and Christmas offerings from the group’s “Holiday Harmony” collection, founding members singer-guitarist Dewey Bunnell and singer/multi-instrumentalist Gerry Beckley, along with their terrific three-man band simply nailed it.
Ryland Steen on Dec. 6, 2014.
Sure, acoustic folk rock hits such as “Ventura Highway” and “You Can Do Magic” sounded great, but America also was able to rock with unexpected power on occasion, bringing welcome dynamics to its 90-minute set. A true highlight of the night was a performance of “Cornwall Blank/Hollywood,” which recalled some of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s best works. Lush three-part harmonies shimmered in the opening section before the medley roared to life as a full-blown rocker showcasing virtuoso lead guitarist Bill Worrell and drummer Ryland Steen (who has played with Orange County’s Suburban Legends and Reel Big Fish). “That was dangerously close to jamming,” Beckley joked after the song ended.
America rocked with that same fire a few songs later with a rendition of “Green Monkey,” including a three-guitar attack bolstering the inviting psychedelic rocker.
The concert was a fast-moving affair, and a well-known cover or original hit was never far away. An artful cover of the Mamas & the Papas’ “California Dreamin’,” a wistful take on “Lonely People,” and a shining “Sister Golden Hair” were among the highlights of the concert’s last half.
America’s encore included “A Horse With No Name.” Bunnell’s strong vocals filled it with authentic melancholy. The night ended with a festive country-tinged version of the Johnny Marks-penned holiday favorite “A Holly Jolly Christmas,” an apt selection, given that this December night proved to be an early gift for those able to score a seat for this memorable concert.

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