Ambrosia And Orleans Sail Their Yacht Rock To The Kent Stage For An Almost Three Hour Tour
September 20th, 2018
Satellite radio recently coined a term for the melodious, blue-eyed soul rock that was prevalent in the mid to late 1970s. "Yacht Rock," and all of its connotations, is a generic lumping of the smooth batch of tunes that pre-dated the Disco Era by a few years. Its practitioners generally rose to success during the Ford administration and disappeared by the early '80s and the cynicism of the Reagan era.
Two of the most well-known bands of that time, Ambrosia and Orleans, have been touring over the last few months, showcasing their prodigious talents on a double bill. "Yacht Rock," a term that may seem degrading and a little offensive to the bands who it may describe, should be seen as a brand of music that harkens back to a simpler time, when most music was still fairly innocent. For those of us at a certain age, it brings back whisps of nostalgia and, perhaps, a window to our youth.
Besides the trip down memory lane, their live shows also reinforce what a kick ass bunch of musicians they still are. Orleans, originally formed in Woodstock, NY in early 1972, is a quintet comprised of original member John Hall, a now-retired former United States congressman from New York state, longtime member Lance Hoppen on bass, Dennis "Fly" Amero on lead guitar, Lane Hoppen, Lance's younger brother on keys, and Charlie Morgan on the skins. Morgan, the newest member of the band, joined the outfit in 2003.
When new artists such as Post Malone who, in my humble opinion, can't string two intelligent syllables together, commands upwards of two hundred bucks for a ticket to one of his gigs, it's a steal to see these guys perform for way less than fifty bucks, on a double bill no less.
Starting their sixty-minute set off with "Let There Be Music," Orleans really let the audience know how legacy acts kick it into high gear. Offering "Dance With Me," one of their most well-known tunes, early in the set, the rendition brought the house to its feet. Seguing into another "Dance" song, the band covered a King Harvest smash, "Dancin' In The Moonlight." However, its cover status is debatable since the song was written by the late Wells Kelly's brother Sherman. Wells Kelly, an Orleans founding member and the outfit's original drummer, was also King Harvest's percussionist before his stint in Orleans.
Towards the end of the set, Hall, Amero, and both Hoppens lined up at the front of the stage. Morgan took them into the early strains of "Juliet," which became the highlight of their set, if not the entire evening.
The four-part harmonies the band displayed on that tune were some of the best I've ever heard and rivaled The Beach Boys, the undisputed masters of harmony. Even in their, um, golden years these five men have deep, consistent, and rich voices.
Closing out their set was, of course, "Still The One." Which proved that, yep, they sure are.
After a short stage re-set, Ambrosia and its six members came out all smiles. Originally founded in southern California in 1970, the outfit has had, like most legacy acts, several iterations over the years. However, unlike many older outfits, Ambrosia has retained three of its founding members in their lineup: Joe Puerta, bassist and lead vocals; Christopher North on keys; Burleigh Drummond on drums and the band's official spokesman from behind the kit. The band's "new" members were Mary Harris on keys (and also Drummond's wife of thirty-five years), Doug Jackson on rhythm guitar, and Ken Stacey on co-lead and backup vocals.
Throughout the ninety-minute set, Puerta and Stacey traded up lead vocal duties. Stacey, a fine vocalist, took the reins on "How Much I Feel," one of the outfit's biggest hits. His interpretation of the tune made famous by Ambrosia founding member and lead vocalist David Pack made you almost forget the departed Pack's absence from the lineup.
As far as covers go, the sextet offered a tune they had been commissioned to play in a film entitled All This and World War II, a 1975 documentary that juxtaposed Beatles music over footage from World War II. The film was panned upon release, but the soundtrack was a delightful mishmash of Beatles' tunes covered by artists of the time. "Magical Mystery Tour" was played as a rather faithful rendition of the song, adding nothing new to the different interpretations of the classic retinue of Beatles tunes from over the years.
North, the keyboardist sat stage right at his B3, staying fairly quiet and unassuming in his posture. Throughout the night, Puerta and Stacey were the two most animated members of the band while Drummond would interject a piece of band history trivia or give an interstitial about their recent exploits. However, when the outfit started to play, the cobwebs fell away. This is a crew that sounds polished, tight, and as fresh as a new and upcoming band. Even their most cherished tunes were played with a moxey that would put the aforementioned Mr. Malone to shame. It really sounds like these folks enjoy playing together.
One of the band's most famous alumni, who left in 1982 to start his own thing, was Bruce Hornsby. Puerta, who had a side gig with The Range, talked about winning a Grammy with Hornsby as "Best New Artist." Ambrosia covered "The Way It Is" with a dynamic that would make Hornsby proud.
Offering up "Biggest Part Of Me" and "You're The Only Woman" prior to the end of the evening, the band showed why "Yacht Rock" was and still is a fantastic sub genre of American music.
And not a bad way to spend a Saturday night.
Photos and Review by Brian M. Lumley