James Gang Rides Again! So said the poster out in front of the Beacon Theatre. It was a Friday night and S.Fo and I were romping about the UWS. I’ve often noticed how once a thing enters your consciousness, you begin to see it expressed everywhere. A year ago, I would have passed the poster by without noticing anything special. And indeed, I had to explain to S.Fo who the heck the James Gang were and are. Eventually, my explanation was whittled down to something like, “They were Joe Walsh’s first band.”
Fast forward a few weeks. As I’m entering the theatre, I turn to the guy behind be and say, “It’s weird, I’m thirty-eaight years old and I’m the youngest guy here.” And it was true, comically true. All around me were the greyed Weebles. (At least they were hippie peacenick Weebles, and not the great Warrior Weebles.) The Beacon is an over-the-top art deco movie house built in 1928. The kind of place that is always referred to as a treasure. 2,800 seats and great sight lines everywhere. I splurged on an orchstra seat, one of the cheapies would have been fine.
The Gang takes the stage and you know immediately why Walsh is a star. He’s got it–but he also projects a wonkily-humored likeability. And he was wearing those damn combat pants. As they crank through the tunes, he’s working hard to show that he’s a great guitarist, too. Jeff Beck is coming to the Beacon in a couple of weeks, maybe Joe felt the need to throw down a bit. Towards the end of their one set–that version of the gang did only 3 albums together–they throw in an extended version of the Yardbirds classic, “Lost Woman”, which only I seemed to get. Joe had been playing humbuckers all night, and when his tech handed him a Strat, I knew what was coming up. “Funk no. 49” blew the roof of the house. Or whatever is the equivalent that three thousand 65-year-olds can muster. Even though the song had nothing to do with the group at all, they ended the night with “Rocky Mountain Way”.
If the James Gang showed me that old folks can still rock, that was nothing compare to the show I caught two weeks later: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young at the Theatre at Madison Square Garden. With a 7:30 start time, I thought we had plenty of time to make our way over to the gig. As we enter the house, there’s music playing, and I look at the stage. What? It’s 7:35 and CSNY are already playing. No opening act? So we scurried over to our cheapie seats (having decided to forego the 250-a-pop orchestra section) and settled down for a long night. And I mean long, these guys rocked the house until 11:00, playing for a total of about 3 hours minus the break.
After a few CSNY classics, the group played through most of “Living With War” in the order of the record. The only drawback to our stage right seats was that we missed the video projection onto the back of the stage. The second set started off with some whisper-quiet acoustic numbers. Then the group broke off into little subsections, duos and trios for numbers like Nash’s “Our House” and Neil’s “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” which was a high-point of the night. Gradually, the full-force rock came back and built up to an amazing three-punch finale: “Let’s Impeach the President”, “Ohio” and finally a 10-minute “Rockin’ in the Free World”.