“Rocky Mountain Way” took the audience back to their younger days of Camaros, long hair, denim, and Joker rolling papers.
Hollywood Casino Amphitheater, St. Louis
The ’70s are still arguably one of the best decades for radio hits and stadium rock spectacles. Veteran rock brand names Bad Company and Joe Walsh knew this when they played the hits for a capacity crowd Saturday night. Both artists also proved they have the staying power, earning sold-out audiences by delivering exactly what the fans wanted.
The inimitable Walsh unlocked a time capsule, taking the audience all the way back to the ’70s with hits from his seminal band the James Gang, the Eagles, his solo work, and more. For James Gang fans, there were the hits like “Walk Away” and “Funk #49,” both featuring the rich, mellow goodness and grit of Walsh’s Les Paul. Both riffs made other famous musicians—including the Who’s Pete Townsend, Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, and Mr. Slowhand himself, Eric Clapton—stand up and notice, and become early Joe Walsh fans.
As can be expected with Walsh, there were moments of levity and his trademark Southern-tinged, slow-draw quips and self-effacing jokes. Walsh, who was formerly a pretty hard drinker and bad boy, has been clean and sober since 1994, but he’s still got the party monster image. While the audience was pretty gray, there were a few youngsters in attendance. Walsh joked that some fans might not recognize or like all the songs, but their parents would. He also joked about just waking up before the show. Walsh never takes himself too seriously, and the audience ate it up.
For fans of the artist’s solo material, there were the hits like “Turn to Stone,” which was extended with guitar jams and licks traded between Walsh and legendary sideman and guitarist Waddy Wachtel. The ’70s anthem “Life’s Been Good” had the audience singing in unison and raising their ice-cold Buds in the air. The encore, “Rocky Mountain Way,” with its trademark talk box and soaring slide guitar, took the audience back to their younger days of Camaros, long hair, denim, and Joker rolling papers.
And, of course, no Joe Walsh show would be complete without a nod to his long, strange, and fruitful career with the Eagles. Eagles fans were treated to a heartfelt version of “Take It to the Limit” and the ode to excess “Life in the Fastlane.” There’s a reason why the Eagles have sold more than 150 million records worldwide. Fans came for the hits, and Walsh delivered.
The U.K.’s Bad Company, headliners in their own right, blazed through a set of FM-radio hits and stadium rockers. From 1973 to 1982, Bad Company scored one hit after another, and is still heard every day on classic rock radio. Their 16-song set was delivered by the two original members: fountain-of-youth vocalist Paul Rodgers and drummer Simon Burke. (Due to illness, guitarist Mick Ralph had to take a leave of absence from the tour.) Heart veteran guitarist Howard Leese and former Black Crowes guitarist Rich Robinson more than made up for his absence, never straying far from the originals and delivering note-perfect riffs and solos.
Unlike many rock gods and front men of the ’70s and the ’80s, Rodgers’ soulful, powerful, and emotive vocals were still intact and unchanged after decades of belting out Bad Company, the Firm, Queen, and Free hits. He also knows how to work an audience. A fit Rodgers prowled the stage from side to side, led call-and-response shout outs, and moved like a man half his age (he turned 66 this year). Unlike some more seasoned performers who seem to dial it in, Rodgers earned the accolades and wore a huge smile for most of the show. He was clearly still loving it, and the audience was, too.
The fans were treated to all the hits you still hear today: “Feel Like Makin’ Love”; “Can’t Get Enough” from the self-titled 1973 debut; 1979’s hit “Rock ’n’ Roll Fantasy”; and the soaring “Shooting Star.” During the latter, large images of George Harrison, Jimi Hendrix, the late Paul Kasoff (Free guitarist), and Freddie Mercury were displayed behind the band, driving home the tragedy of excess and the fragility of life, especially in the dangerous world of rock ’n’ roll.
Other highlights included the haunting number “Electricland,” the large hook of “Ready for Love,” and the grit of “Bad Company.” The played with all the magic they had in the ’70s and ’80s, and proved they’re still vital.
Newcomer Makana, a native Hawaiian, opened the night with a solo set of covers and originals. He showed up off his guitar prowess and slap style of playing. His cover of Led Zeppelin’s beautiful ode to Joni Mitchell and the beauty of the Golden State, “Going to California,” came alive and set the mood.
Without being too morbid, more and more legendary bands and artists are retiring or expiring. If you’ve been thinking it’s time to see musicians like Bad Company or Joe Walsh, you’re right. Do it. | Doug Tull