Welcome back, folks, to another edition of Adventures Through The Mines Of Mellow Gold! This week’s post is going to be a bit different, since I attended a real, live Mellow Gold concert last Friday. I figure this is the perfect place to write about it!
Air Supply and John Waite, 7/20/07
Yes, you read that correctly. But you’re not really surprised, are you?
This past Friday, I took my mother to go see this concert at
Westbury Music Fair North Fork Theatre at Westbury. My mother was a big Air Supply fan back in the day (“the day” = “back when they were popular”). She owned all of their records, and even a few of their 45s. I remember a day back in ’85, before the concert, when she surprised me by bringing home their new, self-titled album on the day of its release. (She also brought Hall & Oates’ Big Bam Boom home that day – but I was far more excited about Air Supply. My entire existence should now make sense to you.)
Times changed, though. Air Supply stopped having hits; 1985’s “Just As I Am” was their last significant single, reaching #19 in June of that year. I can remember maybe one song off of their 1986 album, Hearts In Motion. I bought my mom their album The Earth Is… back in 1991, which I believe may have received one listen before being relegated to the glove compartment of our ’88 Camry. My mom hadn’t really listened to Air Supply in 15 years.
So why did I buy her tickets? Simple: Richard Marx, Kenny Loggins and Lionel Richie aren’t touring. Had to do something. It was her Mother’s Day gift, and kind of a sentimental event for us: 22 years ago, she took me to Westbury Music Fair to see Air Supply. It was my first concert. I was eight. Neither of us had seen the band since 1985.
Anyway, my mother didn’t seem too enthused about the concert; she seemed more amused than anything else, but certainly not excited. I, on the other hand, was psyched. A few months ago, I had a few extra eMusic credits lying around, so I picked up The Singer And The Song – an “unplugged” disc by Air Supply. I was surprised at how well a number of the songs translated to the format – and how both of them still seemed to be in fine voice. So I was psyched for the show, despite the fact that it was a co-headline with John Waite. I mean, nothing against him, but all he was doing (in my humble opinion) was shortening the length of the Air Supply show. But I digress. On to the review!
I was pretty certain that Waite was going to be opening for Air Supply, as Waite’s had two hits and Air Supply’s had, like, a zillion. So we took our time getting to the venue. Sure enough, when we arrived, Waite had already taken to the stage and was making his way through “Back On My Feet Again,” which I later found out was a song from his previous band, The Babys. As we found our seats, I was disappointed; North Fork Theatre is in the round, and the stage rotates, so with the exception of maybe one section, you’re pretty much guaranteed a good view for a portion of the show. I hadn’t realized that this show was being presented in the half-round, which means the stage doesn’t rotate. So our seats, while nice and close (fourth row), were extreme stage right. My disappointment, though, was quickly forgotten as I set my gaze on John Waite’s Lyle-Lovett-In-Training pompadour.
So after “Back On My Feet Again,” Waite played “When I See You Smile.” Then he played another song, and then “Missing You.” Like the rest of the audience, I was psyched to hear “Missing You.” But at this point, I had absolutely no clue what else he could play. I screamed for “Missing You” again, but it fell on deaf ears. He did a few more of his own songs, and then a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Girl From The North Country” (not bad) and Led Zeppelin’s “Rock And Roll” (not good). He also played another Babys tune which sounded pretty good – I’m not sure of the name, but I know that I was able to sing “All Right Now” over the chorus. (And I did.)
Waite left the stage, and a slew of Beatles songs played over the loudspeaker. And just as the whole audience sang along to “It Won’t Be Long,” the lights dimmed and Air Supply took the stage and opened with “Even The Nights Are Better.”
A few quick thoughts ran through my head. The first one – which I’m sure is the same one that went through my mother’s head – was “Dear God, these guys are old!” Graham Russell looks pretty good, actually – he’s aged well.
Except for the fact that when he plays and sings together, he furrows his brow and kind of looks like he’s only moments away from a heart attack.
Russell Hitchcock…well, let’s just say that the years have not been kind to Russell Hitchcock. He kind of resembles an upside-down pear. He wears really tight boots and pants but has a bit of a gut on him, and he does this awkward skip-shuffle combo on the stage that does not befit a rock star. And I remember this guy with the huge, black ‘fro – these days, the fro is gone, and replaced with snow-white hair.
My snarky thoughts didn’t last terribly long, though, because I’ll tell you this: the man’s still got it. His pipes are powerful; the majority of the songs in the Air Supply canon (I just said “Air Supply canon”) remained in their original keys, and there wasn’t a note he didn’t nail. A few songs were lowered, and while that usually bugs the shit out of me, I forgave it instantly. After all, Air Supply recorded in ridiculous keys. I can’t hit the majority of those notes for shit. Hitchcock is, what,
80 75 62 58 years old, and his voice is in tip-top shape.
The other thing that struck me is that he is ever the audience pleaser. Whether he’s singing or not, he spends the majority of his time connecting with the crowd: he waves to them, makes silly faces, and imitates whatever they’re doing with their arms. Occasionally, he touches his heart and points to the audience – a cheesy “I love ya, babe” – kind of move – and it suddenly doesn’t matter that he looks a touch like Grimace standing on his head. The audience loves him throughout. He’s a rock star of the Mellowest Order.
There weren’t many people on stage: Russell, Graham, a keyboardist, drummer and bassist. The band was, no doubt, incorporating backing tracks. There were numerous times I heard vocals, guitar and keyboard parts that were not coming from the group. I didn’t notice too much about the keyboardist or drummer, but I was absolutely fixated on the bassist. Why? Because he was fucking metal.
His name is Jonni Lightfoot and he’s quite the accomplished musician. But this doesn’t change the fact that he’s 34 years old – the youngest member of the band and, I might add, quite possibly younger than Graham Russell’s pubes. (I went there.)
Anyway, now that the audience realized they could spend the majority of their time successfully getting the attention of the guys in the band, they did so – and Jonni ate it up. Nothing is better than watching a musician make devil-horns at the crowd and frantically scan for ladies under the age of 40 (which, surprisingly, wasn’t difficult – there were tons of women there in their twenties). Oh wait, one thing is better: a musician who makes rocking-out faces during “Lost In Love.”
Air Supply played all the hits. The only one they missed was “Sweet Dreams.” They played a few new tunes, which weren’t half bad. Here’s “A Little Bit Of Everything.” I didn’t take this footage, and you certainly don’t have to watch the whole thing, but you’ll see the Russell Hitchcock skip-hop and the way he interacts with the audience. Also, occasionally the two meet up center stage and sing their songs to each other – which, I should mention, is really freaking awkward.
At this point, I need to share a story with you. So at that concert back in 1985, Russell Hitchcock left the stage to make direct contact with the audience. It was during “The One That You Love.” He seemed to walk directly to our section, hugging and kissing audience members while singing the song. He made his way up our aisle, shook a few hands, and embraced the woman in the row in front of me. Excitedly, I threw out my hand to him, in the hopes that he’d acknowledge me (my first brush with fame!). However, he turned back after embracing that woman, and my handshake was rejected.
I was eight. I was crushed. I spent much of the remainder of the evening sulking at being (hopefully unintentionally) rebuffed by Russell Hitchcock. (For the last time – no, I’m not gay.)
Fast forward to the here and now. The band starts playing “The One That You Love.” Hitchcock has three our four audience sections to choose from if he wants to interact with fans, but for whatever reason, chooses ours. He walks off the stage and heads for the aisle.
He comes up to my row. Smooches the woman in the aisle seat and high-fives her boyfriend, who’s more interested in his iPhone than the show. I’m sitting next to this dude.
I throw my hand out to reach him. Suddenly, I’m eight years old again. The hope is in my eyes, and all I want, more than anything, is to get that handshake. That recognition I missed last time around.
He shakes my hand.
I turn to my mother and scream, “FULL CIRCLE!”
Hitchcock continues going up the aisle, and the audience goes insane. It’s clear now that he’ll hug and kiss anybody who gets near him. Audience members from other sections scramble to get close. Hitchcock doesn’t just travel the aisle – he starts walking through rows, like he’s fucking Roberto Benigni at the Oscars. It’s pandemonium. On the other side, the other Russell is playing guitar in the audience, but I don’t think anybody is giving a shit.
Finally he makes his way back down the same aisle.
“Mom, you gotta go get Russell Hitchcock.”
“No, I can’t.”
“Mom, you gotta do it!”
“Jason! Stop! I don’t want to!”
“For Christ’s sake. Excuse me, can my mom please get through? She absolutely has to hug Russell Hitchcock.”
I literally shove my mother past the other two people, into the aisle. I get the feeling she doesn’t want to look silly in front of me, which is kind of absurd when you think about the fact that I’ve sung every single Air Supply lyric for the past 35 minutes. She stands in the aisle and waits expectantly.
Hitchcock embraces her, gives her a kiss, whispers “gotta go” and heads back to the stage. My mom makes her way back to her seat, completely giddy. Unfortunately, the pic I took came out terribly blurry, but I know it’s him and I know it’s my mom, which is enough.
You know what I love about this picture? He’s kissing my mom and has his hand on another girl’s arm. This guy is my HERO.
The rest of the concert was great – and one of the first concerts I’ve been to in a long while where I thought, “that’s it?” These guys played a very short concert. Total time, including encore, was about 70 minutes. That’s a really short show. Granted, they played just about everything I wanted to hear (with the exception of “Love Is All”), so I really don’t have any complaints.
I know what you may be thinking: Jason, you’re glorifying the exact same shit you make fun of every week. You’re not wrong. But just as you have a soft spot for those songs you heard in the car with your parents as you drove down the highway 30 years ago, I have a soft spot for the music that filled my childhood. What can I tell you. If you too have a soft spot for these songs, go see Air Supply. You won’t be disappointed. If these guys can sell out three nights at BB King’s, clearly they’re doing something right.
It wouldn’t be a Mellow Gold post without some downloads, so here are a few tracks from The Singer And The Song.
Air Supply – Lost In Love (Unplugged) (download)
Air Supply – All Out Of Love (Unplugged) (download)
And here’s one more for you, “Yours Truly.” I had to include it: the first line is “Sometimes when I look at you, I wonder why you’re here with me.” What’s more mellow than that?
Air Supply – Yours Truly (Unplugged) (download)
(For fun, check out some of the other track titles and lyrics from the album Yours Truly. Maybe one day we’ll talk about “Body Glove,” with lyrics like “You and me, we’ve got enough/we live inside the body glove/You and me, we live for love/Deep inside the body glove.”)
And, just for fun, here’s that wonderful Time-Life Soft Rock infomercial you keep seeing on TV, hosted by the duo. (At least three of you have e-mailed me, in the middle of the night, to tell me about it.) Scary how many of these we’ve covered!
Come on back next week for another Adventure Through The Mines Of Mellow Gold!