The Canyon Club hosted the band America, Agoura Hills, CA October 26, 2019 by Larson Sutton
Even though it was at a volume just high enough to be comfortable for the sold-out, seated audience, America came ready for a knockout. Opening their 90-minute appearance at The Canyon with a trio of classic hits- “Tin Man,” “You Can Do Magic,” and “Don’t Cross the River,”- not only did the originating duo of Dewey Bunnell and Gerry Beckley honor the late Dan Peek, the group’s founding third member, but also showed why five decades in, this pair still has the magic. From sing-alongs to deep album cuts to surprise covers, America, essentially in their backyard of Southern California, delivered a delight.
The crowd, comprised mostly of over-50s couples, brought in its share of representatives from a younger generation; children, perhaps grandchildren. It’s the kind of “emeritus” status America has earned with a career, they stated towards the evening’s end, that has seen the band play at least 100 shows a year over the last 50 years. A telling sign of not just their endurance as performers, it’s also a testament to their masterful pop rock songs that have consistently surmounted every trend to become part of the modern American songbook.
Even when they ducked into early album tracks such as “Cornwall Blank,” or honored an influence such as The Beatles with a rendition of “Eleanor Rigby,” they did so in vintage style; Bunnell and Beckley’s still strong voices and simpatico guitars meshing in timeless harmony. They joked about hits in Italy and, for “Ventura Highway,” noted this night’s show was the closest they have ever been to the actual Ventura freeway when performing the song; The Canyon Club, only a few hundred yards from the thoroughfare. Many sang along with every word, with some visibly emotional as the duo conjured up the way-back memories.
There was an abundance of energy in the appearance, from the duo and their supporting ensemble, as their longtime rhythm section- drummer Ryland Steen and bassist Richard Campbell- was augmented by the group’s newest firebrand, Steve Fekete, on guitar and keyboards. But, the show belonged to Bunnell and Beckley as they spun half-dozen classics and one more homage in closing out the 22-song set.
Beckley anchored the tricky, angular piano riff of “Woman Tonight,” then seduced on the bounce of “Only in Your Heart,” with Fekete accenting the slight psychedelia of the guitar outro. They dropped in a cover of “California Dreamin’” before the last round of mega-hits, beginning with a subdued “Lonely People.” There was “Sandman,” with its extended intro and fiery finale, countered with the light and rocking “Sister Golden Hair;” the capacity house shaking and rattling to the chorus.
After encoring with the galloping and glorious “A Horse with No Name,” Bunnell and Beckley smiled and waved good-bye, tossing guitar picks, and giving thanks. It’s easy to say America’s music has withstood the test of time, but maybe more accurately, it has marked time. Clearly, it has been the soundtrack for so many lives across five decades. A performance as genuinely pleasing, humble, and musically satisfying as this one is why so many want to keep taking that ride down the highway in the sunshine, where the days are still longer and the nights are still stronger than moonshine.
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