It was joyous!
The seventies get a bad rap. The era is seen as one of excess, as opposed to the progenitor era of the sixties, where the Beatles caused a revolution and the album became a statement and…
If you went to a gig in the sixties, the sound was often bad, frequently the bands couldn’t play all that well, this is when they were still figuring it out. Long before Live Nation was an international presence, before consolidation, when it was all being developed. We lived through this in the internet era. Going from dialup to cable, from computers to smartphones, when gadgets were superseded not long after you brought them home. The technological wild west is in our rearview mirror.
But those were exciting times, before the stasis, before the hate, when the companies were our friends as opposed to enemies.
In the seventies, FM superseded AM. Suddenly radio was in stereo. And you needed a makeover of your auto’s interior to extract the sound. This is after you purchased components for your apartment or dorm room. We talked about cartridges like we used to talk about chips. We wanted more power, saved up for JBL L100’s. We just had to get closer to the sound, which was everything.
And the gigs were religious experiences. You could finally hear the music. And it was so popular stadium gigs were de rigueur. It’s only forty years later that stadium shows have made a comeback.
And the winners were the second generation. Not the Beatles and the British Invasion acts, but acts like the Eagles, Yes, Peter Frampton…the list goes on and on. And if they’re alive, they’re still doing boffo at the b.o. That was the impact of their music. The eighties were all about flash, how you looked on MTV. In that era you could rocket to the moon, become world famous overnight, and then be a nobody soon thereafter.
And in the years that have passed, people have forgotten the magic of the seventies. With the audience all on one page, paying fealty to the music, going to the gig to revel in sounds that were known by not only fans, but seemingly everybody. We marinated in the music. And those who were around back then have never forgotten. Their demands keep these bands on the road.
But none of them have a hit single anymore. As a matter of fact, none of today’s hits sound like anything from the seventies. And when Greta Van Fleet pays homage to Led Zeppelin, this is seen as an offense. But I’d say more new acts should look back to what once was, because then there was genius, a melding of act and listener that hasn’t happened since. Sure, Fleetwood Mac was on the radio, but “Rumours” was a staple in the home. Played over and over again. To the point where you knew all the licks, to the point where you had to go to the show.
Where you sat down.
Not only were tickets cheap, all the money being in recordings, the music got respect. Food was a bad hot dog. There were no smartphones for selfies. Going was a religious experience, where you were locked as one in thrall to the act. When done right, no one talked, everybody was together but in their own dreamland, this was the peak of their lives, hearing live what they knew by heart.
It’s not that way anymore.
But it was that way at the Ace last night.
Not that I expected it. I thought it would be an oldies show for the nearly dead. Instead it was an energetic performance that elated the act’s hard core fans.
You see this wasn’t a shed show. You know those gigs, where they book a slate of acts for a summer night, it’s a value proposition, you go as much for the experience as the music.
But America goes out alone. So everybody there wants to see the band.
There was not a cut they did not know. There was a standing ovation after “Sandman.” If you’d been flown in from outer space you’d think America was one of the most popular acts on the planet.
First and foremost, you did not need a libretto to understand the words. The music was not an assault, rather it wafted over you in waves, setting your mind free to recall those days back then, and the thread that takes you to today.
That’s what happens when you sit, You don’t have to jockey for position, you don’t get tired, it’s all about the sound and the experience. And the experience is all about the sound.
The band started off with “Tin Man.” That’s what you do if you have enough hits, you deliver right up top, to satiate the fans.
And America has a ton of hits. All of which they played. Sans attitude. It seemed that you could be up on stage with them, if you had any talent.
And the show wasn’t on hard drive, and there was not a ton of support, so the sound was alive, it breathed, there was only a five piece, enough room for everybody’s work to be heard. It was like sitting in front of the big rig back then, being able to pick out all the instruments, before the loudness wars and everything got compressed and air was anathema.
And this was an acoustic act, with support. So for most of the show, Gerry and Dewey strummed those big guitars. You were reminded when you used to play that guitar. In the seventies, after James Taylor, when you knew you were never going to make it, but you enjoyed learning and singing the songs.
But there was a guy who played his Les Paul with stinging leads. The melding of electric and acoustic is magic. And they played that song too, “You Can Do Magic.”
And occasionally Gerry sat down at the keyboard. And occasionally he and Dewey strung on electric axes. But really, this show was based on an acoustic platform, with drums, bass and electric guitar holding down the bottom and adding spice.
And I was sitting in the audience thinking being on stage would be fun!
It doesn’t usually look that way. The band is on a hundred gig slog. Just another date for cash. They’re bored, they hate each other, there’s a clear line of demarcation between on stage and off.
But we felt included last night. It was like the Ace was not even in Los Angeles, we had no idea what was happening outside its walls and we did not care.
The music is playing and my mind is drifting back to those days. Buying the first album, going to college, it was in 3-D, in color, in my brain. And I knew that everybody else was having the same experience, even if their memories were different.
And my favorite track on that first album was “Sandman.” And for me and many others it was the height of the show. It was heavy and meaningful and dramatic…like our music back then, before everybody became self-conscious.
That’s right, America can rock. But at no time was the show an assault. First and foremost it was music, whereas with so many people it’s about the performance.
Now I bought that initial LP, I know all the hits. But I can’t say I’m the biggest America fan.
But after last night, if you are a fan, or just want to hear these songs live, you need to go.
This is America’s fiftieth anniversary. They had a slew of hits, but like their contemporaries, not recently. But sometimes accidental moves chart the course of your entire life, sometimes to your detriment. Have one hit and it’s hard to go back to regular life, be a civilian.
And then there are other acts, with more success, who might be better off giving up, going to college, broadening their experience, having a second career.
And sometimes musicians come from the depths of the economic ladder, their success rises them above.
But America is made up of middle class members, their fathers were in the Air Force, on some level music was a lark.
But when you see the band live you see why they continue. Because it’s fun, because it’s an adventure, because of the connection with the audience, because of the music.
That’s how it was in the seventies, not about how you looked…Gerry and Dewey came out in street clothes, not outfits…but music.
And as I sat there as the music washed over me and resonated, in my own private reverie, I said to myself THIS IS IT!
And I wanted more.