1970s Hit Makers America Nail It In Concert Celebrating Understated Legacy

by Robert Kinsler

america-logoWhile it seems unlikely that America will win 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 has influenced several generation of other musicians.

Performing in front of a capacity crowd at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano, California on Saturday, Dec. 6, ’70s hit makers America proved that while countless musical generations have passed since their 1971 debut introduced the world to “The 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.

Sure, acoustic folk rock hits such as “Ventura Highway” and a “You Can Do Magic” sounded great, but America also was able to rock with unexpected power on occasion bringing welcome dynamics to their 90-minute set. A true highlight of the night was a performance of “Cornwall Blank/Hollywood” which recalled some of CSN&Y’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 previously played with area ska bands Suburban Legends and Reel Big Fish). “That was dangerously close to jamming,” joked Beckley after the song ended.

America rocked with that same fire a few songs later with a rendition of “Green Monkey,” with 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’,” wistful take on “Lonely People,” and shining “Sister Golden Hair” were among highlights of the concert’s last half.

America’s encore included “A Horse With No Name,” Bunnell’s strong vocals filled 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 this December night proved to be an early gift for those able to score a seat for the memorable concert at Orange County’s most enduring and intimate concert venue.

For more about America, visit www.venturahighway.com

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