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America continues its love affair with the audience at Penn's Peak

  • Dewey Bunnell takes the Penn's Peak crowd on a ride on "Ventura Highway". JOE PLASKO/TIMES NEWS
    Dewey Bunnell takes the Penn's Peak crowd on a ride on "Ventura Highway". JOE PLASKO/TIMES NEWS
Published October 30. 2009 05:00PM

From the moment it took the stage at Penn's Peak Thursday night, it was clear America was commencing on another hit-filled ride at one of the pop duo's favorite venues.

Gerry Beckley mentioned that the show was actually An Evening With America, meaning that it was primed to deliver not only a setlist of its well-known smash songs of the 1970's and 80's but go beyond that as well.

While Beckley and musical partner Dewey Bunnell revel in the nostalgia of their own brand of classic rock, the audience doesn't mind the trip down Memory Lane, since America enjoys being the guide.

From the time they arrived on the scene with their first hit "A Horse With No Name" in 1972, America, then a trio that also included Dan Peek, delivered the kind of catchy folk-influenced, harmony filled pop rock that kept the band at the top of the charts and on the radio airwaves, where it never really left.

Peek later left the group, but Beckley and Bunnell have soldiered on, playing over 100 shows a year while continuing to develop musically as well. The show at The Peak was a career-spanning restrospective that stretched all the way up to America's latest recordings released last year.

The opening "Riverside" showcased the twin acoustic guitars of Bunnell and Beckley, who took turns on lead vocals behind the tight accompaniment of long-time sidemen Willie Leacox on drums, Michael Woods on lead guitar and Rich Campbell on bass. Leacox and Woods are well into their fourth decade backing America, with Leacox logging 37 years and Woods 32.

Bunnell's "Ventura Highway" produced gasps of recognition from the large crowd, as did many of the band's energetic offerings. "Ventura" remains a favorite of the band, which uses the title in its website address, as well as the fans and admirers such as Janet Jackson, who once sampled the song's main guitar riff.

Beckley took his turn at the microphone with another winner, 1982's post-Peek era's "You Can Do Magic", then the bluegrass flavored "Don't Cross The River".

After Bunnell dipped into the America songbook for "Old Man Took", Beckley moved to the piano for the poignant ballad "Daisy Jane". Then it was back to the first album with Dewey on "Three Roses" and another stirring Beckley ballad, "I Need You".

A sample of '90's era America was provided from the Human Nature album with an overlooked gem, "From a Moving Train", once which Gerry sang the lead.

"Hollywood" remains a highlight of America's shows, led by Dewey and closing with a stinging guitar solo from Woodsy.

America shares a distinction with The Beatles of being produced by Sir George Martin, which Beckley proudly acknowledged. The band played homage with a version of The Fab Four's "Eleanor Rigby" before a lively rendition of the Martin-produced, Bunnell-penned delight in "Tin Man".

America isn't afraid to note its musical influences, as "Rigby" and a cover of The Mamas and Papas' "California Dreaming" demonstrated. Beckley mentioned that the band has learned a lot from playing with such pop luminaries over the years.

More tugs of recognition were provided through the funky "Woman Tonight" and "Only in Your Heart", two more Beckley leads, and on the still charming "Lonely People", on which Gerry added some harmonica.

America's latest release, Here and There, included a disc of new material as well as an XM radio concert of live performances culled from the band's History/Greatest Hits album. Bunnell showcased a new song, "Ride On", which featured a "sha-la-la" chorus that made it fit comfortably with the group's better known fare.

"Sandman" remains a concert favorite, as it gives the band the chance to jam and turn up the electricity a bit. It had the crowd standing in time for Beckley's "Sister Goldenhair", one of America's signature tunes and chart toppers.

The two-song encore included the bluesy "Dream Come True" before America rode offstage with "A Horse With No Name" and later greeted its fans from a table at the back of The Peak.

America's long-standing love affair with its fans shows no signs of lessening as the years pass.

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