Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

America plays beautiful set


They’ve played over 100 shows a year for nearly 40 years. Over those four decades, they’ve released 16 albums, and produced two chart-topping tracks among many other top 10 hits. It’s likely that you know at least three of their songs, but it’s just as likely that you have no idea who they are.

You should.

The band, as timeless as their name, is America. Led by original members Dewey Bunnell and Gerry Beckley, the folk rockers pleased a lively Calvin Theater crowd with more than 20 of their greatest hits last Friday night.

Starting with one of their more popular songs, “Tin Man,” they immediately won over the nearly-packed house. The vocals were slightly drowned out by the music, but after being notified by an eager crowd-member the correction was made and the microphones were turned up.

From there on, the band took full advantage of the acoustics of the Calvin, and the crisp, stringy guitar-work was a perfect complement to Bunnell and Beckley’s fine voices.

The two front men looked like they were fresh off their American military-base school, and while they’ve lost a bit of their Simon-and-Garfunkel-esque voices, they still sounded amazing. Time has clearly been kind to the group.

“It started in 1969 after we graduated high school. Before we knew it, we were opening for Pink Floyd, the Who and Traffic,” Bunnell said to the crowd.

And as far how their songs hold up today, Beckley said, “These are not oldies; they are classic rock.” The crowd vivaciously agreed.

They followed-up their first song with a top 10 hit that only avid fans would recognize, “You Can Do Magic.” It set the tempo for the rest of their lesser-known songs leading up to the ones that put them on the map.

Typically, classic rock bands that don’t have enough hits to fill a two-hour set struggle to keep the crowd interested throughout the show. But that wasn’t the case Friday night. They performed emotional ballads like “Daisy Jane” and “Don’t Cross the River” like they were chart-toppers.

Both “Riverside” and “Three Roses” from their self-titled first album, America, stood out among the filler songs. It seemed like the two were among their favorite songs to play and the guitar work was first-rate. Like the majority of the set, these two songs were lyrically and instrumentally gripping.

Bunnell and Beckley were great, but the band behind them made songs like “Riverside,” “The Border,” and “Sandman” truly stand out. Drummer Willie Leacox, who has been with the band for 38 years, guitarist Michael Woods, 33 years and rookie bassist Rich Campbell played a tight set and seemed to have a great chemistry with Bunnell and Beckley.

One of the more comical points of the evening came when the band performed their song, “Hollywood.” The track’s music video, even featuring the VH1 Classic icon in the bottom corner rolled on the massive projection screen behind the band. The video featured Bunnell and Beckley playing some futuristic game that seemed like a trippy combination of Chinese checkers, Risk and Battleship.

After the song, Bunnell said, “If you have any idea what that video had to do with the song, please, let us know,” which provoked an eruption of laughter throughout the crowd.

Noting the Mamas and the Papas as big influences on the band, they covered “California Dreamin’” as if it were their own.

They ended the set with a flawless rendition of “Sister Golden Hair.” Joined by alternative rock band Fountains of Wayne, America came out for the encore shortly thereafter and ended the night with the song that started it all, “A Horse with No Name.”

The show was just short of two hours long, and seemed like half that. The night was amazing and for a classic rock band with only a few well-known hits, America performed with the humility, grace and aptitude of Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famers.

Justin Gagnon can be reached at [email protected].

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