Monday, August 12, 2013

SAIL ROCK - Our Concert Review

We've been talking about it for weeks now ... so when Saturday night finally rolled around, we were pumped and ready to go see the 2013 Sail Rock Concert Tour when it landed in Aurora, Illinois, at RiverEdge Park.  An extraordinary line-up of artists were on hand to perform their biggest hits ... and what a line-up it was ...   

Christopher Cross, Orleans, Firefall, Gary Wright, Player, Robbie Dupree and John Ford Coley ... it just doesn't get any better than this ... between them, these artists have scored an incredible 32 Billboard Top 40 Hits.   

It was a beautiful night ... and a beautiful venue ... for some beautiful music ... and the seven artists performing Saturday night delivered a fast-paced, non-stop entertaining show.   

With Orleans acting as the back-up band for every featured artist, the music literally never stopped.  The show began precisely at 8 pm and ended two hours later ... and during that time we heard some of the biggest hits of the late '70's and early '80's, executed to musical perfection live on stage. 

The soft-rock duo of England Dan and John Ford Coley put together a string of eight straight Top 50 Hits beginning in 1976 and I was fortunate enough to have seen them live three times during their original hit era, both as a warm-up act (for America) and later as headliners (backed by Neil Sedaka, who was on the comeback trail at the time.)  Coley's former partner, England Dan Seals, passed away in 2009 after a very successful solo career on the country charts.  As such, John Ford Coley is back out on the road as a solo artist.  (In fact, he'll be back in town in October for a show at The Arcada Theatre, which will also feature Terry Sylvester, one of the late '60's / early '70's Hollies.)   

Coley opened the show with "We'll Never Have To Say Goodbye Again", their Top Ten Hit from 1978.  After poking fun at the misinterpreted lyrics to their biggest hit, he then performed "I'd Really Love To See You Tonight" (#2, 1976).  He closed his set with the gospel-tinged "Love Is The Answer" which elicited a great response from the crowd, most of whom were clapping and singing along.  And then that was it.  (Without question, he left the crowd wanting more ... but with so many artists on the bill, we knew coming in that these were going to be hit-filled, abbreviated sets.)

Next up was Robbie Dupree, who scored back-to-back Top Ten Hits in 1980 with "Steal Away" and "Hot Rod Hearts" ... and those were the only two songs he performed.  When it was first released, all the focus was on how much "Steal Away" sounded like The Doobie Brothers' #1 Hit "What A Fool Believes" ... but today the song stands alone on its own merits today as a great '80's track ... and Robbie was in fine voice Saturday night. 

While I'm sad to report that Dupree looks like he's aged about 60 years since his biggest hit rode the charts 33 years ago, the two guys representing Player (Peter Beckett and Ronn Moss) look like they haven't aged a day!  In fact, it was Peter Beckett's birthday Saturday night and when they brought out a small cake, the audience happily turned the tables to sing "Happy Birthday" to Peter.  Once again, they, too, were limited to just two hits ... so they performed their two biggest, "This Time I'm In It For Love" and their chart-topper "Baby Come Back", which has never left the airwaves in the past 35 years.  The duo were in excellent voice (ALL of the acts were, quite honestly) as they did their "next best thing to Hall and Oates" #1 Hit, garnering a rousing, standing ovation.  

The entire night was a "move 'em in and move 'em out" exhibition in stage finesse ... they never missed a beat changing over to the next artist ... and Orleans proved to be a very fitting and versatile back-up band for all parties concerned, giving strong musical support to every style and genre being presented.  Unfortunately, for most of the night I had an additional show going on right in front of me as an obnoxiously drunk couple (literally falling down drunk, I might add ... several times, in fact) with what had to be the worst body odor I've ever smelled in my life, who seemed to feel the need to display their best attempt at ill-conceived dirty dancing to the complete disgust of anyone close enough to witness this pathetic display of affection.  The saddest part of all was knowing that their total life existence must consist of not much more than passing out and cleaning up each other's vomit.  After they spilled their beers for the fourth time, several people just moved to another location.  It was the first time in my life that I can honestly say I missed The Danzman at a concert!!!  Scariest part of all was knowing that these two numbskulls then drove themselves home, putting every other concert attendee (and unsuspecting driver on the road) in serious jeopardy.  But I digress.  (Let's get back to the MAIN concert at hand)  

Moving on, the next artist to take the stage was Gary Wright, who absolutely KILLED with his live rendition of "Love Is Alive", easily the biggest reaction of the night thus far.  Wright mentioned that he's just finished a book on his career, which most likely will be called "Dream Weaver", the name of his 1976 chart-topping hit, which also closed his set.  It was now ten minutes to nine and we had already seen four of the seven acts performing that night!!!  

Before the hour was complete we could add Firefall to that list.  They kicked off their set with "Just Remember I Love You", which had most of the crowd singing along.  Anybody who wasn't joined in on their next tune, "You Are The Woman", which they proudly told the crowd has now passed six million airplays.  (In all fairness, I think three million of those were on WLS-FM last week alone!)  They wrapped things up with "Strange Way", one of my all-time favorite Firefall songs.  (Several years ago Forgotten Hits was the first publication to announce the Firefall reunion so it was great to finally get to see these guys performing live in concert!)  Another Firefall favorite of mine has always been "Always" ... how THIS one failed to make The Top Ten is beyond me.  (Truth is, it pretty much bombed, not even making The Top 50).  Sadly, they did not perform it ... so I'll have to feature it here.  Odds are most of you out there probably never got the chance to hear it!

At this point I have to stop for a minute in order to give special props to David Muse, one of the instrumentalists of Firefall, who augmented every artist's performance with some absolutely KILLER sax and flute solos.  This guy wailed all night long and really added something extra to each and every track he played on. (I'd go so far as to say he took the songs to a whole new level ... and, as such, deserves this special mention for his stellar contribution to the overall sound.)  WTG, David ... EXCELLENT job!

Shortly after nine, Orleans finally got the chance to play their own hits after wrapping up the Firefall set and rocked the crowd with their first chart record "Let There Be Music", a modest hit from 1975.  (Although they called it their first foray into The Top 40, the record actually peaked at #49).  They followed that with one of their best, "Dance With Me", another tune that has never left the airwaves or our consciousness since it first climbed to #4 later that same year.  A brief tribute to the recently departed Larry Hoppen followed (Orleans still consists of two Hoppen brothers, Lance and Lane, as well as boasts the return of original founding member John Hall) and then they launched into a very credible version of the King Harvest hit "Dancing In The Moonlight".  They referenced some connection between the members of the two groups but despite a bit of research, I can't seem to find one.  Nevertheless, the one-two punch of "Dance With Me" and "Dancing In The Moonlight" got the crowd back on their feet.  They then pushed things over the top with perfect readings of "Love Takes Time" (clearly a crowd favorite, even though radio continues to ignore it) and "Still The One".  (DIDJAKNOW? that Orleans' John Hall left the music business for a few years and served in The House Of Representatives as a representative for New York State??!?)  

Finally, headliner Christopher Cross took the stage, opening his segment of the show with 1980's "Never Be The Same".  Next came his #1 Hit "Arthur's Theme" (with loving nods to Burt Bacharach, Carole Bayer Sager, Peter Allen and the late Dudley Moore ... and no apologies to Russell Brand!).   Lance Hoppen then set the crowd on its ear when he informed us that TWO Grammy nominated artists were performing this evening ... Robbie Dupree had been nominated for "Best New Artist" in 1980 ... but lost that honor to none other than Christopher Cross!  (Who knew!  Or, more accurately, who remembered?!?!?)

While all of the artists performing this evening continue to record new material, tonight's concert was all about the hits.  Only Christopher Cross was allowed the freedom to play a new (2011) track, "Dreamers" ... but please don't be misled.  All of these artists continue to lead very active musical lives ... and you'd do yourself well to check out their websites for more information, not only about new releases but also about upcoming concert appearances ... as every artist presented tonight absolutely wowed the crowd. (Website links are provided below)  

Cross then wrapped up the evening with performances of his two best known hits, "Sailing" (#1, 1980) and "Ride Like The Wind" (#2, 1980).  The entire ensemble cast then came out for a show-ending rendition of the Jackson Browne / Eagles classic "Take It Easy".  In and out, two hours on the dot. 

A GREAT concert experience, chock full of hits.  They've only got a few dates left so if you find them heading to your area, do yourself a favor and check out the show ... you will not be disappointed.  And be sure to check out the websites listed below, too!

Kent Kotal
Forgotten Hits

(As always, subject to change ... and more dates may be added)
Tuesday, August 13th - Mayo Performing Arts Center - Morrisontown, NJ
Wednesday, August 14th - Indiana State Fair
Thursday, August 15th - The Family Arena - St. Charles, MO
Wednesday, August 21st - Sandy City Amphitheater - Sandy, UT
Saturday, August 24th - Sunrise Marketplace Outdoor Pavilion - Citrus Heights, CA
Friday, September 20th - Starlight Theatre - Kansas City, MO