America at the Wolf Den at Mohegan Sun May 28, 2011
The band America visited the Wolf Den at Mohegan Sun during their the group's 40th Anniversary Tour, playing many of their great, Southern California-inspired hits and some excellent covers that they're releasing later this summer on an album of some of their own favorites. The Anniversary Tour has been so successful that they're actually in their 41st year by now. Original member Dan Peek exited the group in 1977 but Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell are looking and sounding great, surrounded by band members who've been with them for decades.
Bunnell kicked it off with "Tin Man," the folksy tune with the funky, catchy bass line, played here by Rich Campbell who, at 11 years with the group, is the junior member. Lead guitarist Michael Woods, who does double duty on keyboards at times as well, has been with the band for 33 years and drummer Willie Leacox an incredible 39 years.
Beckley took lead vocals on "You Can Do Magic," their last Top 40 hit in 1990. The country-flavored "Don't Cross The River" included a subtle banjo part by Woods on keyboard. Beckley sat at the keyboard for "Daisy Jane" then medley of songs from their first album followed that included "Riverside" and "Three Roses." They did the sweet ballad "I Need You" with Beckley on 12-string guitar (as he played often during the show) and Woods and Campbell both on keys, Woods playing the string orchestration part that's familiar from the recording. The rocker "Here" was the first of the harder material that some casual fans aren't aware that this band has recorded then it was into the sun-kissed "Ventura Highway" with Bunnell on lead vocal.
To set up the next section of the show, Beckley explained, "we went to Nashville during a tour break a few months ago and came up with a 'short list' of a hundred tunes" from other artists they'd love to record. The result was the CD "Back Pages," set for release on July 26. America performed a few of the songs from the disc including the Joni Mitchell song (best known by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young) "Woodstock," Fountains of Wayne's "A Road Song," (Beckley and FOW's Adam Schlesinger are friends and admirers of one another's music) and the Gin Blossoms' "Til I Hear It From You."
Many of the songs were accompanied by some cool videos and "Hollywood" was one of the best, with images of Tinseltown shown on the big screen over the stage. "Woman Tonight" had Beckley back on keyboard, Bunnell on electric guitar swapping leads with Woods who also rocked out on "Only In Your Heart." During that song, road manager Erin Edwards stole onstage for a moment to trigger a sequenced bit on the keyboard that added an important flavor that was on the original recording, showing just how ingeniously the group manages to reproduce the full sound with only five players on stage.
As Americans growing up in England, Beckley and Bunnell connected as teens in the mid-60s with their love of music. Bunnell recalled seeing the Rolling Stones at Hyde Park and being influenced by bands like The Byrds and "the band that inspired us, Buffalo Springfield." The followed with a version of "California Dreaming" that was a faster, tougher version of the familiar Mamas and the Papas classic. Beckley noted that the group has been playing the song for decades yet didn't think to record it on the new disc.
Dewey Bunnell and Gerry Beckley met with Connecticut Concerts after the show.
Beckley played the familiar harmonica part on their hit "Lonely People" then they ripped into one of their best rockers, "Sandman," and it's a shame this song has been forgotten by oldies and classic rock radio. It's awesome. They closed out their set with the much-loved "Sister Golden Hair" and returned for an encore of the Buffalo Springfield tune "On The Way Home" and their first hit, "Horse With No Name."
Early in the show, America was honored by Mohegan Sun with a presentation by Vice President of Sports and Entertainment Tom Cantone and Mohegan Tribal Chairman Jonathan Hamilton inducting the group into the Wolf Den Hall of Fame, just the fifth artists so honored. Initiated earlier this year, previous honorees are Little Anthony & the Imperials, John Cafferty & the Beaver Brown Band, Jay Black and Eddie Money.