Forty-eight years after meeting as chorus members in an Australian production of Jesus Christ Superstar, and nearly 44 (!) since their debut Top 5 U.S. single “Lost In Love” catapulted them to global stardom, Graham Russell and Russell Hitchcock – collectively soaring throughout millions of hearts everywhere as hit romantic pop duo Air Supply – achieved a career first Labor Day weekend headlining the Hollywood Bowl. Significantly, the duo announced that they were dedicating their show to The Beatles, who took the same stage on consecutive Augusts in 1964-65. As teenagers, long before they met, the British born Russell and Australian born Hitchcock were inspired to become musicians by seeing the Fab Four play during the height of Beatlemania.
While they mentioned all this at the beginning of the show – after they blessed the roaring crowd by riding the skies in their “Sweet Dreams,” the only literal musical nod to their heroes was having “All You Need is Love” pour forth as they and their powerhouse four piece backing band took their final bows, While it might have been nice to hear them bring their Air Supply magic to a few “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” or the chorus of “Hey Jude,” Russell and Hitchcock were focused on sharing their own nonstop hit parade with their ever-eager audience.
At one point, Russell asked, “How many of you are seeing us for the first time?” Thousands of hands went up. While obviously not groupies who follow them around the planet – because, you know, they’re mostly middle-aged adults with busy lives and responsibilities - these folks had clearly been waiting years for their chance to partake in the ultimate love song singalong. It seemed as if EVERYONE in the crowd knew the lyrics of heartbreak and love’s initial euphoria by heart. When Hitchcock took a breather after soaring on their sole #1 smash “The One That You Love,” the crowd amiably took over in rapturous loving harmony. Ditto on one of the later choruses of Air Supply’s sweeping signature hit “All Out of Love,” an extended version of which was the dynamic closer. Thousands of swaying, flashlit phones were testament to the bright flow of nostalgia that dazzled the evening.
The underlying reason The Beatles connection is so crucial is that, for all the chart and industry designations of their enduring smashes as “adult contemporary” and “soft rock” songs, “The Russells” are true rock and rollers at heart. Those who only know their tunes from radio or their recordings are familiar with just the foundation of what these tunes can become. It’s the spirited classic and prog rock fire they bring to them that makes their show so captivating. This is where their fiery band of young musicians comes in, elevating these heartfelt pieces – already soaring to operatic heights thanks to Hitchcock’s still-amazing poperatic vocals - into epic pop/rockers.
Air Supply is one of the few legacy bands out there who give prime space on their home page to their backing (and sometimes spotlighted) cohorts – lead guitarist/music director Aaron McLain, keyboardist and vocalist Mirko Tessandori, drummer Pavel Valdman and bassist Doug Gild. This crew brought an edgier, electric funk/rock energy (sometimes with higher tempos) to instantly recognizable gems like “Even The Nights Are Better,” “Just As I Am,” “Every Woman in the World” (my personal favorite), “Here I Am (Just When I Thought I Was Over You” and “Lost in Love.”
For variety’s sake, the duo took the spotlight for a mostly stripped-down version of “Two Less Lonely People in the World” before the ensemble, led by McLain, powered in for the final chorus. Speaking of variety, Russell reveled in his two unique solo spotlights away from the hits, dramatically reciting a thought-provoking original poem titled “Am I” and later performing a fascinating solo acoustic guitar improvisation featuring intense fingerpicking and exploring the percussive possibilities of the wood. His speedy hands and fingers were a marvel to watch up close on the video screens!
For those who just don’t get it, the best way someone of a certain age can explain the enduring appeal and power of Air Supply is to share personal anecdotes of how certain songs have impacted their lives over the years. On a personal note, in those early 80s, when I was in the throes of first love (and resulting first heartbreak), their song “Here I Am” was the perfect sorrowful expression of how the swell of conflicting emotions felt. Decades and many loves and losses later, a recent triumphant karaoke duet I performed of “Every Woman in the World” in a dive bar on Sunset with a special friend felt liberating and uplifting at a time I needed to feel that most - and rekindled my passion for all things Air Supply.
Air Supply shared the bill with another romantic mega hit maker (whose greatest chart successes were in the late 80s/early 90s), two-time Grammy winning singer/songwriter Michael Bolton. While his raspy soul voice set just the right inviting, inspirational tone on everything from his reimagined R&B hits (“When A Man Loves a Woman,” “(Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay”) to memoriable original hits like “Go The Distance” (from Disney’s Hercules), “Said I Loved You…But I Lied” and the rambunctious, gospel and rock fired “Steel Bars,” one of the main takeaways beyond the music were his many anecdotes, told with dry humor and a droll wit.
The emotional core of the show found Bolton and guest duet partner Chrissi Poland bringing their deepest passions to his best heartbreaker “How Am I Supposed To Live Without You” and a wonderfully unexpected, beautifully rendered version of “The Prayer” – complete with a shoutout to its composer, David Foster, who was in attendance. Another great surprise was when Bolton took a break and let his saxophonist Jason Peterson DeLaire let loose on his pocket funk smooth jazz jam “Check Please.” That performance would have been right at home a week earlier during the Bowl’s Smooth Summer Jazz show.