Friday, August 05, 2011

Those Memories Come Crashing Through...

In 1982 I went to my first concert of a real band, Air Supply. Yes, those wonderfully sappy purveyors of Carpenters style balladry that came to define adolescent images of romantic love in the early 80s. For a two year period they were unstoppable, casually lobbing one carefully crafted soft rock ditty after another onto the radio. Then the 80s really took hold and Air Supply had run out of oxygen, unable to compete with the macho power ballads flooding the airwaves. By 1986 Air Supply couldn't even muster a minor Top 40 hit.

Last night I wondered how Air Supply would fare 29 years after I had first seen them. Could Russell Hitchcock still belt out those soaring sustained high notes? Would they sound tired of playing the same 'ol songs for nearly three decades? Does their appearance at the Solano county fair signal the end is near for the Australian group?

It was a strong turn out for them in terms of crowd, the largely Filipino audience eagerly awaited the beginning of the show. Then the group hit the stage to deliver their message of love. And after a quick smooch between principal songwriter / guitarist / singer Graham Russell and vocalist Russell Hitchcock the band went off to the races with this set list (at least what I remember of it):

Even The Nights Are Better / Just As I Am / Here I Am / an upbeat song / Chances / The Power Of Love / A Little More Time / I think an upbeat song here / The One That You Love / Lost In Love / I think a song I didn't know / Every Woman In The World / Making Love Out Of Nothing At All

encore: an upbeat song something about a Big Idea / All Out Of Love

Air Supply kicked off with a rocked up take on their final Top 10 single "Even The Nights Are Better". Hitchcock seemed in clear voice, retaining a surprising amount of power considering how long they've been around. Right from the start Hitchcock's stage mannerisms started with pointing at the crowd and blowing kisses at them, he had not lost a beat since the last time I saw them. The band was energetic and filled with talented musicians, yet they had trouble throughout the night trying to pull off some hairpin turns in their arrangements.

Giving "Nights" a heavier rock edge made more sense as they led into "Just As I Am" from 1985 - a time period where Air Supply tried to rock harder (I use that phrase modestly, Air Supply never rocks hard). One of my favorite Air Supply songs, even though my most lasting memory of it was attending a youth group meeting senior year of high school and sitting in a circle on the library floor while "Just As I Am" blasted on the tape deck as our touchy-feely theme song.

The hits kept comin' with "Here I Am", more memories of borrowing my best friend's Mom's two Air Supply records back in the day. "Here I Am" also featured a big Air Supply tradition: milking the big note. When I saw them way back when they would stop playing before the big vocal note and not continue until Hitchcock felt he had enough audience applause to do it. Well, they still do that on almost every ballad. In fact, the pause was so long on this song that when the singer paused on "It's just no good without..." the audience began yelling "You! You! Yooouu!" before they resumed. Air Supply likes them some applause.

Graham Russell addressed the crowd, asking them if they were ready for a night of love. The word "love" is invoked with near religious reverence in the Air Supply lexicon. He then made one of several comments thru the evening of how beautiful a place the audience lives in. Next up was some upbeat song, you know the Supply gotta have those so it's not just one long ballad fest. At this point I was really impressed with the professionalism of Air Supply, these guys commit to putting on an entertaining show. Graham Russell does his waddling boogie dance, Hitchcock works the crowd, they give their supporting band numerous shout outs and let them strut their stuff. I was impressed by their guitarist with the Mike Reno headband, he wasn't a bad axe man. Nailed those soaring solos.

The highlight for my night was "Chances", a song I heard the first time when I saw them in '82 (it latter was released on the first Greatest Hits Lp). Such a great song. They followed up with "The Power Of Love" which is probably best known in the U.S. as a Celine Dion song although it was a remake of a Jennifer Rush song. Supply had covered this in '85 so they had a credible reason to perform it and it was rendered nicely. Their version is the one I like the most anyway.

I hit the head at this point and came back in time to see Graham Russell stand up straight like a soldier to a military style marching beat. My wife filled me in that Russell had performed a moving song about a soldier's wedding he had performed at. The soldier was later killed in action and the widow said their last words to each other was "A little more time".

Pretty sure another upbeat song happened next. Then Air Supply made a move that caused the crowd to go nuts. Hitchcock and Russell walked through the seated lawn area while performing an acoustic take on "The One That You Love". Cameras and throngs of people surrounded them as they slowly made their way around. Women were crying and shouting "I Love You!" right to their faces. Yeah, that sealed the deal. Air Supply owned this audience.

It was time to score some insurance runs, so Air Supply followed up with "Lost In Love". While I find it personally humorous, the concept that someone is "lost" in "love" like a person would be lost in a haze trying to find a way out, it is undeniably a monster in the soft rock catalog. And so many great 80s movie soundtrack memories to boot.

I don't remember if there was a song between "Lost In Love" and "Every Woman In The World", I was just going with the flow of the concert now and not keeping track of the setlist closely. It might have been band introduction, where we were told the names of Mike Reno headband wearing guitarist, Jersey Shore drummmer and keyboardist Amir. "Every Woman In The World" is another treasured Air Supply song that went smoothly. I really like the Love Boat / Fantasy Island view of romantic love this song has.

To close the set, Russell Hitchcock started a capella with "Making Love Out Of Nothing At All" before launching into the full band version. This was the only song where Hitchcock's vocal skill couldn't overcome age as he had to take a lot of breaths to get through the long windy Jim Steinman penned verses. To be fair, Jim Steinman songs are built tough, tough enough to make Meat Loaf faint. For a reason I couldn't quite figure out, they did the 2nd verse twice. Didn't seem like an accident, maybe to stretch out the song? The band wound up the show and trotted off stage.

Shortly after, the group returned for the encore. An upbeat number ensued, something about a "Big Idea". Followed by band introduction #2 of each member 'cause Air Supply likes to get their props. Apparently Graham Russell really liked his 2nd introduction because he then gave Russell Hitchcock a kiss on the cheek. Then Graham Russell said this would be the last song of the evening, that they could not leave without playing this song.

"All Out Of Love" rolled out, the bands biggest and baddest hit. Yet another wave of gooey soft rock swooniness took over the audience (during this show I saw enough swaying arms in the air to fill a season of American Idol) and all was right with the world until...UNTIL...BLAM! A big ass drum solo by the Jersey Shore looking drummer two thirds of the way thru. The band left the stage while the drummer who I will now refer to as The Situation blasted through a thundering solo which was fine for what it was, by why in the middle of "All Out Of Love"? It was your standard epic rock concert drum solo that crushed all the sentiment out of the song, it was like watching someone paint a mustache on the Mona Lisa (OK, that metaphor was overboard but you know what I mean). The Situation then went to the front of the stage to throw his sticks out to the audience, like we're going to impress other people with a stick from the drummer of Air Supply (sorry, if you're not the original drummer Ralph Cooper I don't care). Like I'm supposed to say "Yay, you destroyed 'All Out Of Love' good job!"

As easy as it is to ridicule Air Supply (and it is easy...) I am at heart a fan of their music. And as a fan I have to say Air Supply delivers a good show, committed to creating an energetic environment to which people can feel their brand of, love. I guess you can say (please, don't say it) they made love...out of all...


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