Poco & Pure Prairie League |
at Seven Springs Resort,
(21 April 2007)
Patches of melting snow still dotted the nearby slopes and comfortably cool spring air greeted visitors to this four-season mountain resort on a Saturday evening. The place was as busy as ever, with conferences and private parties scattered throughout the facility. But a treat awaited the nearly 1,000 people who filed into the Exhibit Hall: they were about to be musically transported back to the country-rock era of the 1970s.
Pure Prairie League opened the concert with "Tears," a song written by Craig Fuller and included on the group's 1972 debut album. Tonight the band featured original PPL members Fuller on guitar and John David Call on pedal steel guitar. They were joined onstage by guitarist Donnie Lee Clark, bassist Jeff "Stick" Davis and drummer Rick Schell. Lead vocals were handled most often by Fuller and Clark, and both were in fine voice. Clark stepped up to the mike for "Kansas City Southern," and his striking turquoise Fender sounded just like a well-played fiddle during the instrumental stanzas. Fuller took back the lead for "Early Morning Riser," a steady toe-tapper from side A of the Bustin' Out album.
Part of the band's mission this evening was to acquaint the audience with PPL's 2006 album, All in Good Time, released more than 20 years after its immediate predecessor, Mementos. The group played three songs from the new CD: "Gettin' Over Me," "If You Could Say What I'm Thinking" and "Don't Go Confessing Your Love" -- all good tunes with catchy melodies and lyrics, courtesy of Fuller. But only he and Schell were involved in recording the disc; the other musicians on All in Good Time were original PPL members Mike Reilly on bass and Michael Connor (before his death in 2004) on keyboards, while Curtis Wright added electric and acoustic guitar and Fats Kaplin played pedal steel guitar and accordion.
Though the lineup varied, the live performance stayed true to the recording.
Fans were eager to hear that one special song the band is most known for, and of course they had to wait for it. In the meantime, the musicians offered a two-part tribute to Merle Haggard: a cover of "It's Not Love (But It's Not Bad)" and Nick Gravenites' "I'll Change Your Flat Tire, Merle," from Two Lane Highway. That was followed by "Misery Train," "Boulder Skies," "Two Lane Highway" and a selection from Fuller's days with Little Feat, "Six Feet of Snow." When he introduced a song as being the only No. 1 hit Pure Prairie League had ever had, many folks in the audience were no doubt surprised to learn that he was talking about "Let Me Love You Tonight," which topped the Adult Contemporary chart in 1980. How quickly we forget! And when he invited folks to sing along on the next selection, we could all sense what was coming. We weren't disappointed. To see and hear Craig Fuller perform his signature medley, "Fallin' In & Out of Love/Amie," was a real treat. His vocal range and skillful fingers seem not to have aged a bit since the day he wrote that song.
Pure Prairie League's set concluded with "I'm Almost Ready," which, like "Misery Train," dated back to the days when Vince Gill was with the band. The group was given a standing ovation but opted not to return. They put on a good show, in spite of having started out from Wilmington, N.C., that morning, and despite being bothered by several front-section hecklers, including one woman who didn't seem to know what concert she was attending. Leave it to a few people to ruin things for the rest of us.
After a sizable intermission, Poco took the stage. Considered to be the headliner of the evening, Poco has 24 albums to its credit and is due to celebrate its 40th year as a band in 2008. With ties to Buffalo Springfield, the Eagles and Loggins & Messina, Poco certainly played an important role in the popular music scene of the 1970s. At the same time, its music was more often found nestled in the background, on album-oriented turntables and radio stations, and not necessarily on Top 40 playlists. Yet, the band is not without its devoted fans: Poconuts. Not quite as flamboyant or as conspicuous as Deadheads or Parrotheads, quite a few local Poconuts populated the auditorium on this April night. Some of them might even have preferred that the chairs be moved out so some real dancing could be done.
Rusty Young seemed to have a lot of fun running the show, providing vocals and switching from mandolin to acoustic guitar to pedal steel as needed. He was accompanied by Paul Cotton on guitar, Jack Sundrud on bass and George Lawrence on drums. The group entertained the audience with tunes spanning the entire history of the band, from the title track of the Pickin' Up the Pieces album (1969) to "Shake It" from 2002's Running Horse CD. But most of the selections were from the 1970s and nicely represented the popular music sound of that decade: "Rose of Cimarron," "Indian Summer," "A Good Feelin' to Know," "Keep on Tryin'" (originally sung by Timothy B. Schmitt), "Bad Weather" and "Magnolia." Even non-Poco fans recognized "Crazy Love" as being one of the band's biggest hits. Also included were "Under the Gun" and "Call it Love," the latter one a bouncy chart-maker in 1989.
Young's forte at pedal steel came through loud and clear on "Indian Summer" and "Magnolia," demonstrating that the instrument can emit a variety of effects, and not just twangy country tones. Cotton provided good vocals as well as decent strumming during the night. Sundrud offered "Hard Country," a poignant tribute to rural Minnesota life, from his recent solo By My Own Hand CD. Lawrence broke a drumstick in the beginning lines of "Shake It" but was successful in keeping a steady beat while simultaneously reaching for a replacement.
Poco even paid homage to founder Richie Furay by performing "A Child's Claim to Fame," first done by Buffalo Springfield in 1967. No doubt a number of listeners remembered the connection. The group ended the set with the rhythmic hit "Heart of the Night," and the standing crowd was appreciative.
Each band was onstage for about 75 minutes, and folks got more music than they paid for. It was great to hear those once-familiar songs again; and this time, live. Those who walked out into the crisp night air without at least one of those tunes resounding in their heads must not have been really "there."
by Corinne H. Smith