Concert Review: Rock icons America mark 50th anniversary at Symphony Hall

Photos by Karen Head

When I discovered the music of America, I was a little late to the show, so to speak. The band already had a solid decade-plus of music-making behind them. I still remember hearing “Sister Golden Hair’ for the first time almost 40 years ago, and the song still resonates with me all these years later. And, as a former Army Brat, I’ve always felt a strong connection to the band’s story of meeting while in a Department of Defense High School in England, where their fathers were stationed with the Air Force. The first time I saw them live was in 1984. So, when INtown asked if I would be willing to help review America’s 50th anniversary show at Atlanta Symphony Hall, I was happy to say yes.

Symphony Hall was sold out, a testament to their ongoing popularity. The band has performed at least 100 shows a year for 50 years, which is an incredible feat. The band’s original founding members and songwriters, Dewey Bunnell and Gerry Beckley, were in fine form and voice.

“Americana” From Karen Head’s scrapbook, including a photo of her with founding member Gerry Beckley in 1984.

Tonight’s show was all about their greatest hits, with a couple of notable covers: “California Dreamin’” and “Eleanor Rigby.” Having their first few albums produced by George Martin, some of their early tunes have hints of the Beatles sprinkled in, and the California sounds of the late 60’s is another major influence. It’s a cocktail that tastes as good as it did 50 years ago.

With hits like “Tin Man,” “Ventura Highway,”  “Daisy Jane,”  “You Can Do Magic,”  “I Need You” and “Lonely People,” the audience spent the evening singing along. Beckley and Bunnell continue to demonstrate their excellent musicianship and harmonies, helped out by some fantastic young support players. The easy banter with the audience was also enjoyable, as they interjected self-deprecating lines like “That was dangerously close to jamming.”

Throughout the show there were projections of old photographs and videos of the band and of historical events of the last 50 years. Particularly poignant was their performance of “Sandman,” with video of Army helicopters in Vietnam interspersed with scenes of counter culture moments—one including a fabulous shot of poet, Allen Ginsberg–as well as many images of the band’s third founding member, Dan Peek, who died in 2011.

They concluded the show with “Sister Golden Hair” and “A Horse with No Name”—which brought the crowd to their feet.  Nostalgic, yes, but the music stands the test of time. I, for one, am looking forward to the 51st anniversary tour.

2 Comments
  1. I was there, and it was good, but not as good as you claim. Beckley no longer has the voice, and spent most of the show singing nasally. Bunnel still sounds excellent though.

    The sound was a little weak for such a small venue. It was cool to hear the songs again, but not worth $75 each. $30 each would have been a reasonable price for what we heard.

  2. As The Dude would say, “That’s like your opinion, man.” 😉

    I was also at the concert, sitting in the top balcony and the sound was clear without being overwhelming. Personally, I don’t want to wear earplugs at symphony hall.. There were a few instances of the music drowning out the mics, but from where I was sitting I didn’t notice any big sound issues. As for Beckley, I thought his voice was much stronger last night than it has been over the last few years. There are some YouTube clips of recent America shows and he sounds horrible.

    Maybe I’m jaded by the $200 and $300 cost of individual tickets elsewhere, so $75 seems like a bargain.

    Thanks for reading.

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