America strikes a nostalgic chord at The Egg

Harmonies just fine, and Steve Fekele, on electric guitar, adds a new dimension
America performs before a sold-out Hart Theatre at The Egg Saturday night.
America performs before a sold-out Hart Theatre at The Egg Saturday night.

Categories: Entertainment

What better remedy to a rainy weekend in Albany than a little “Ventura Highway in the sunshine”?

Folk-rock group America played its familiar, decades-old hits before a sold-out Hart Theatre audience at The Egg on Saturday night, many of whom were in high school or college when the band broke onto the scene in 1972 with the international hit “A Horse With No Name,” from its self-titled debut album.

At the time, founding members Gerry Beckley, Dewey Bunnell and Dan Peek were barely out of high school themselves — graduating in 1969 from a school outside London, where their U.S. Air Force personnel fathers were stationed.

Bunnell explained Saturday night that it was a heady time to be in England. They attended shows by the Rolling Stones, The Who, Jimi Hendrix and more. Stateside, they were influenced by the music of the Beach Boys, Simon & Garfunkel, the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield. “And backstage tonight is Richie Furay, a founding member of Buffalo Springfield,” Bunnell noted. Furay was there, coincidentally, to perform in The Egg’s other space, the Swyer Theatre.

America has played the Capital Region many times, headlining SPAC as well as smaller venues. They had just returned from playing shows in Europe and Israel.

And they raised their game on this visit, thanks largely to the guitar wizardry of young Steve Fekete, whose blistering solos gave a new dimension to songs such as “Here,” “Driving,” The Mamas & the Papas’ “California Dreamin’ ” and Bunnell’s greatly underrated “Cornwall Blank” (which flowed into  “Hollywood,” also by Bunnell). Joked Beckley, “I know what you’re thinking, that was dangerously close to jamming,” and the crowd laughed. Bassist Rich Campbell played superbly on “Here.”

Early songs included the opener “Tin Man,” “You Can Do Magic,” “Don’t Cross the River,” “Daisy Jane,” “Riverside” and “Ventura Highway” — some with more spark than others.

Highlights included the rarely performed “Greenhouse,” off the band’s 1994 release “Hourglass,” and featured smooth vocal harmonies by Bunnell and Beckley.

After all, it was those special harmonies that helped attract a new producer to the band in 1974 — none other than Sir George Martin, who had earlier helped shape the Beatles’ sound. Martin went on to produce seven America albums.

In mid-concert, Bunnell said, “Now we’re going to do one by one of our favorite bands, one of everybody’s favorite bands.”

With that came a fine version of “Eleanor Rigby,” after which Bunnell said, “I think George Martin would have been very proud of Steve’s arrangement on that.”

The rousing “Sandman,” off their debut album, brought the crowd back to the late 1960s with images and video clips of those turbulent times flashing on a screen in the background. Drummer Ryland Steen closed the song with a flourish, and brought the crowd to its feet.

If there was a lull, it came during the back-to-back “Woman Tonight” and “Only in Your Heart,” but yet again, Fekete stepped forward to the front of the stage and elevated the tunes with solo guitar work.

Beckley would point toward the energetic Berklee College of Music grad in appreciation, shaking his head and saying, “We’ve got comebacks that are older than him.”

Late in the show came Peek’s “Lonely People,” a nod to the co-founder who left the group in the late 1970s to pursue a solo Christian music career. Peek died in 2011, ending the hopes of many that the original three members would someday reunite.

The concert closed with “Sister Golden Hair” and the one-song encore, “Horse with No Name,” again bringing the appreciative crowd to its feet.

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