Linda Ronstadt & America
at the Chevrolet Theatre,
Wallingford, CT
(3 June 2006)

It was an evening of familiar faces and songs for 1970s fans and quite a treat for any music lover.

Linda Ronstadt mesmerized an appreciative audience for 75 minutes with multiple musical styles delivered in clear, strong tones. From the opening notes of "What's New," Ronstadt proved that her voice is as powerful now as it ever was. Accompanied by a six-piece band, she offered a sample from the vocal standards she revitalized with Nelson Riddle: "Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered," "Someone to Watch over Me," "Straighten Up & Fly Right," "Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out to Dry," "Get Out of Town," "Lush Life" and "Little Girl Blue." All thoughts of Ella Fitzgerald or Frank Sinatra went out the window as listeners hung on every note. Between selections, the singer spoke quietly about the pieces and her fondness for all things pre-World War II (music, people, even furniture). Most of the folks in attendance -- like her -- were born after that time.

With "It's Too Soon to Know," Ronstadt moved the music chronologically forward. Considered to be the first rock song ever played on the radio (1948), the tune also introduced backup singers Marlena Jeter and Arnold McCuller to the stage. Then it was time for more contemporary tunes, like "Just One Look," "Ooh Baby Baby," "Adios" and Emmylou Harris's "Feels Like Home." The hands-down crowd-pleaser of the evening came as McCuller stepped in for James Ingram and combined with Ronstadt for the moving duet, "Somewhere Out There." Warren Zevon's "Poor Poor Pitiful Me" concluded the regular program.

The singers and band returned with "Quiereme Mucho." And after she noted her love for New Orleans and her work with Aaron Neville this past year, Ronstadt playfully wrinkled up her nose and dedicated "Blue Bayou" to George W. Bush. A second encore gave us the simple "Heart Like a Wheel," from the 1974 album of the same name.

With hardly a need for a microphone, Linda Ronstadt filled every inch of the auditorium with sound. She especially showcased her talent with the Nelson Riddle standards. It's difficult to believe that she'll turn 60 next month. Not many singers of any age could sustain such a strong performance for more than an hour.

The same cannot be said for the band America, which opened the show. While the group entertained the receptive audience for an hour by performing its most popular songs, at times it was painfully obvious that the higher notes of the melodies were now out of range. Original members Dewey Bunnell and Gerry Beckley can still play their black Taylor guitars and sing well, but some of their upper tones were reached only in fans' memories. (Dan Peek, the third of the original trio, left the band in 1976.) Still, a grateful crowd responded to the opening guitar riffs and mouthed the familiar lyrics.

Bunnell led the vocals on "Riverside," "Ventura Highway" and "Tin Man." Beckley's distinctive tone carried "You Can Do Magic," "Don't Cross the River," "Daisy Jane," "Woman Tonight," "Only in Your Heart," "Lonely People" and a cover of the Beatles' "You're Gonna Lose That Girl," reminding us that Fab Four producer George Martin had also produced many of America's albums. "These are not oldies," Beckley admonished. "This is classic rock. There's a difference. We're not sure what it is, but there's a difference." Even he had to wipe his eyes after singing the stirring love song, "I Need You."

America has been performing more than 100 concerts a year since the three boys met at a U.S. Air Force base high school in England in 1969. Hearing their lyrics again took us back to a time when skirts were shorter, hairstyles were longer, there were "alligator lizards in the air" and someone could fly "like an eagle in the eye of a hurricane that's abandoned."

With Rich Campbell on bass guitar, Michael Woods on lead guitar and Willie Leacox on drums, the band rocked the house with a long and intricate version of "Sandman" that definitely put the original recording to shame. The men were given a standing ovation as they finished the set with their number one hit, "A Horse with No Name." But no encore was in the offing, as the crew had to quickly prepare the stage for Ronstadt. Fans could have been hoping to hear "Sister Golden Hair," but it was not to be.

by Corinne H. Smith
24 June 2006