SCHENECTADY — Call them a one-hit wonder. Except they have several hits, and Saturday night at the Mohawk Harbor Jam, Orleans played a number of familiar songs. And most of the unfamiliar songs — including the new ones — were pretty decent.
They opened with their first charted single, “Let There Be Music,” from 1975. Lance Hoppen, one of two founders who was on stage Saturday, told the crowd they had been at it for 46 years. “I’m six months away from Medicare,” he joked. “Some of the guys are already there.”
They surprised us with their big hit early in the show, “Dance With Me,” which John Hall, the other original member still with the group, told us he wrote as a “little lonely song while fiddling on his guitar in his room.” The group sounded good, with the vocals on the mark. Here the phone cameras came out, the crowd started singing, and the place came alive.
In general, the group had a nice sound. Three guitarists and vocalists, Hoppen’s brother on keyboards and a drummer. They took several guitar solos, never more than one round each — Hall even played slide on a few. They moved through some decent rock and blues, sounding less like the AM radio band that many expected, at the same time performing their hits as we all remembered them.
Before starting “Love Takes Time,” Hoppen said: “This was our last radio hit back in 1979.” These were all good songs, but they came and went quickly Saturday, as they were designed to do for radio play.
The group started in Woodstock, and Hoppen told us more than 20 musicians had come through their band over the years, many moving on, some passing away. He noted that the widow of one of the former drummers was in the audience Saturday night.
Interestingly, Hill never mentioned that he served as a representative for New York in Congress years ago, and has since returned to the band. He stayed away from any political messages as well, perhaps knowing how to read his crowds after all these years. The closest they came to any political message was with the song “Lady Liberty.”
Hill wrote the song for his parents, who came to the United States to escape persecution — his mother from then-Czechoslovakia and his father from Scotland. Each band member took a verse, singing about their family members. This was a tough song to get through musically for the listener, but it served to deliver a clear message on the value of immigration to their lives.
There was a clear lull toward the end of the show – they could have used a familiar song at that moment, but they are limited and needed to save the remainders for the finale. Hill called for a “seventh-inning stretch” at this time. During this portion they turned on a percussion track to accompany one of their new tunes, which seemed like a time-filler before playing the hits to end the night.
“Forty-six years together,” Hill said. “We’re buckin’ for 50. We ain’t the Stones, but we’re trying.”
The show was the eighth and final concert of the Harbor’s summer series. A steady rain dampened the middle of the show, enough for the umbrellas to emerge. Fortunately the rain faded toward the end, in time for their largest song, “Still the One.”
Dennis Amero sang lead on this and sounded awfully close to the record. To think how many times they have played this song for audiences, and it probably works every time.
“Still the One,” “Dance With Me,” and hard work on the road has been enough to sustain the band for decades. They earned it Saturday night.
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