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Akron inhales 40 years of Air Supply hits in concert 1-31-2014

Air Supply concert at Akron Civic Theater, Ohio 1-31-2014


Air Supply are pros.

Air Supply's Russell Hitchcock and Graham Russell uncapped the hits at the Akron Civic.
Peter M. Roche
Air Supply's Russell Hitchcock locks up guitarist Aaron McLain.
Peter M. Roche

The most famous pop duo from the land down under proved its mettle Friday night at the Akron Civic Center by rebounding from a technical difficulty that sidelined the show for fifteen minutes and threatened to scuttle the excitement for good.

Lead singer Russell Hitchcock and guitar-picking partner Russell Graham delighted the crowd with well-remembered love letters like “Even the Nights Are Better,” “Just As I Am,” and “Every Woman in the World.”

But when the red-jacketed Hitchcock paused to greet the audience between tunes, the unthinkable occurred:

“Ghmmmfaphhfft,” he said.

At least, that’s how it sounded. For whatever reason, the singer’s voice—a voice gracing records that have sold in the millions—came out of the PA’s sounding like garbled robot gibberish. White-haired Hitchcock was initially unawares of the problem and continued speaking, but he caught on after fans’ frantic shouts and waves made it clear something was amiss. Russell offered him another wireless microphone, which yielded similarly distorted results, while the backup musicians checked their gear for gremlins. After a few awkward moments, the guys quit the stage and left it for the sound crew to iron out the kinks.

It didn’t take long.

The boys returned with an eloquent version of “Here I Am (Just When I Thought I Was Over You)” from 1981’s The One That You Love, beguiling spectators with the trademark vocal harmonies and orchestral bombast that catapulted them to fame just as President Ronald Reagan was taking office. Hitchcock, the shorter of the band’s two principals—the one who sported poofy black hair back in the day and whose angelic high voice prevails on many hits—apologized for the glitch.

“Stuff happens,” he said.

Apparently it doesn’t happen often. Russell later said they’d never encountered an issue quite like it (whatever it turned out to be) in over 39 years of touring. The guitarist also disclosed that the delay forced them to cut his planned solo spot from the set, citing “union rules” mandating the concert’s end time and load-out. Credit Air Supply for candor; Graham needn’t have put himself at risk of balks and boos by telling his Akron onlookers they’d been shortchanged. Later, Hitchcock commended his technicians for overcoming the night’s obstacles—and for the great job they’d done all tour—when many of today’s prima-donna popsters might’ve thrown a hissy fit onstage instead and berated the crew.

These guys are all class.
Offsetting Hitchcock’s scarlet suit jacket, the brown-headed Russell wore a blue shirt with a black trench coat (which he removed later). We learned his black boots were also new; a roadie came out to tie Russell back up when the guitarist’s laces came undone and he couldn’t fix them fast enough himself). Air Supply’s songwriter sang into a headset mic throughout the evening and switched back and forth between a 12-string acoustic guitar and a custom acoustic-electric hybrid guitar with a Union Jack paint theme. The colors might’ve seemed peculiar at first, but Russell is originally from Britain and grew up in Australia—whose own flag incorporates the U.K. pennant in its upper left corner.

Check out our interview with Graham Russell here:

The guys weren’t afraid to sample new material at the Civic. Hailing from 2010’s Mumbo Jumbo, the upbeat “Dance With Me” was a loud rock ‘n’ roll number with catchy hooks highlighting both Hitchcock and Russell at different parts. Originally written by Jennifer Rush (and popularized by Celine Dion) “The Power of Love” was sensational, sweeping, and cinematic, with Hitchcock tweaking the familiar lyric “I am your lady and you are my man” to befit his lung-busting guy-to-girl delivery. Indeed, Hitchcock proved himself the group’s resident ham, cheekily flashing his tattooed chest to females down front or singling others out with a wink, finger-point, or approving thumbs-up.

Hitchcock mentioned their appearance earlier in the day on Rover’s Morning Glory radio show. The WMMS shock jock rather ballsily confronted the duo on air about their sexuality. He said Rover asked point-blank if he and Russell were gay, as if the answer might reveal something telling about the duo’s music, or would make any difference at all.

“But you’ve been married four times!” a female screamed at Hitchcock.

“Right! Thank you!” laughed the singer, whose husky, Aussie-tinged speaking voice contrasts startlingly—amusingly--with his celebrated tweaky tenor.

He confirmed he and Graham are merely lifelong friends who also happen to be “compassionate, loving people” who enjoy what they do. They've been collaborating since the mid-'70s, when they met on a production of Jesus Christ, Superstar.

As if to further illustrate the point, the pair relaxed on a couple barstools midway through a stripped-down acoustic spin on “Two Less Lonely People in the World.” Originally appearing on the 1982 LP Now and Forever, the selection received a marvelous “unplugged” makeover—along with other Air Supply greats—on 2005’s The Singer and the Song. For folks interested in dipping their feet in the pool of latter-day Air Supply but who can’t shake their attachment to the band’s classics, that acoustic project—which features only one guitar and the guys’ two cherubic voices panned L/R—sans blustery arrangements, orchestral enhancement, and lavish production—makes the perfect gateway.

The Air Supply auxiliary players looked a bit younger than their two employers, and their attire—and thick, loud sound—suggested they’d be just as comfortable jamming together in a heavy metal outfit. Guitarist Aaron McLain handled leads and solos, faithfully mimicking the parts heard on the old vinyl albums before expounding upon them. Keyboardist Amir Efraft manned a Yamaha Motif and other keyboards at stage right behind Russell, his nimble fingers reconstructing the trebly pianos and symphonic strings on the moody “Sweet Dreams” and Jim Steinman-written “Making Love Out of Nothing at All.” Drummer Aviv Cohen and bassist Jonni Lightfoot set the tempos and kept the grooves clicking all night, despite the earlier muck-up made the mix a little suspect.

Both Hitchcock (in a fresh shirt) and Russell descended the stage and wandered into the audience to sing “The One That You Love” directly to ticket-holders, hugging and high-fiving their faithful while walking the aisles. Encore “All Out of Love” had fans singing the refrain back to Hitchcock—who can still hit most of his celebrated high notes, thank you very much.

Air Supply may look older these days (don’t we all), but Friday’s gig served notice that its canon of so-called “soft rock” is peppered with timeless tunes, all of which sounded as powerful—if not harder and heavier—in a live context. And they acquitted themselves marvelously in the face of adverse audio circumstances, maintaining professionalism and just rolling with it rather than projecting blame or allowing any negative energy spoil the fun.

Ohio native-gone-Nashville Zach Paxson opened with a handful of tunes from the releases Simple Life and Good Luck With That. Armed only with a confident, twangy voice and acoustic guitar (with capo as needed), the young blood entertained for a solid twenty minutes all by himself, unleashing clever three and four-chord ditties that celebrated the Midwest and paid homage to its blue collar workers.

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