” Fire Water in the Fast Lane ” – Joe Walsh and Bad Company

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Waddy Wachtel and Joe Walsh out front at Red Rocks

Concert review- Joe Walsh and Bad Company, Red Rocks Amphitheater, Morrison, CO 5/15/16

” Well, the Rocky Mountain Way is better than the way we had…Oh-oh yeah ! ” – Joe Walsh

” Joe Vitale and I moved to Colorado in …1971 and a half …”, and since then Coloradans have considered Joe Walsh a native. From the James Gang days, with Joe’s original Huge Riff Song  ” Funk 49 ” and the cool burn of ” Walk Away “,  the Centennial State has embraced Joe fondly. With the celebratory ” Rocky Mountain Way “, his place in local lore was cemented. Most Front Range rock fans have their own story of a cool thing Joe did here, the most common being his habit of showing up at KBCO and disc jockeying a shift, sometimes for several days in a row. When the Eagles finally stopped milking their legacy, err, touring several years back,  Joe resumed gigging with his own band, playing not only his trademark Eagles songs – ” Life In the Fast Lane ” and  ” Pretty Maids All In A Row ” – – but the James Gang pearls and his solo tunes like ” In the City “, ” Life’s Been Good “, ” Over and Over “and ” Turn To Stone “. The current lineup backing Joe includes Joe Vitale, his Barnstorm bandmate on drums as well as  Chad Cromwell ; Waddy Wachtel on guitar; Larry Young on bass and Jimmy Wallace on keyboards, Leslie Fuller, Connie Jackson, Windy Wagner and Rickey Washington  as background singers and Clayton Janes on samples.

Joe’s last gig at Hudson Gardens in Denver showed his sensitive side, with a heartfelt tribute to the then-recently departed Levon Helm. Joe played in Levon’s  Midnight Ramble  bands in Woodstock, and admitted that ” I’m not okay with his passing ” before launching an unhurried, mournful version of ” I Shall Be Released “. And this Red Rocks show’s finest moment was Joe’s tribute to ” my friend and brother, Glen Frey “, a moving version of the Eagles’ ” Take It to the Limit “. At first it seemed incongruous to choose a song by then-bassist Randy Meisner when Frey had so many great tunes. But the lyrics rung true – ” All alone at the end of the evening …if it all fell to pieces tomorrow, would you still be mine? ” – and the spotlighted vocal by backing singer Rickey Washington was emotionally charged. The photo montage projected behind the band was filled with old Frey photos, some with his arms around Walsh, and evoked memories of the early days when the Eagles seemed so unaffected by stardom.

The somber moments at Joe’s shows are leavened with humor. At Hudson Gardens , Joe remembered being solicited to contribute a song ( ” In the City ” ) to the 1979 teen gang movie ” The Warriors “. Joe told the producers, ” I know about that.. I was in a gang in high school. We weren’t very tough…we had to be home by seven..” Last night’s opening greeting was ” Good morning”, as if he meant it, and the lead-in to ” Life’s Been Good ” was a funny tale of an airport fan who begged Joe to confirm his identity, then swore that he couldn’t be Joe. ” Lucky I’m still sane after all I’ve been through ..”, as  the song goes.

Joe’s playing was remarkable throughout, and he easily delivered the arena-friendly riffs and solos so well known to his fans. His voice was plenty strong, if fading in the upper register, and the backing vocals were arena-necessary. When Joe intro’d the encore with : ” If I were President…this would be the National Anthem “, everyone in the joint knew what was coming: ” Spent the last year, Rocky Mountain Way, couldn’t get much higher ”


Paul Rodgers and Bad Company on ” The Sky Is Burning “


” Let me tell you about the voices in my head… there’s Levon Helm, there’s Paul Rodgers, and David Barbe..” – Mike Cooley

Back when dinosaurs still roamed the Earth, Paul Rodgers fronted a great blues rock band named Free, best known for the hit ” All Right Now “, but widely admired for their gritty, uncluttered lamentations like ” Fire And Water ” , ” Heartbreaker “, and ” Don’t Say You Love Me “. That band had a gift for playing slowly,  a trait that would mark Rodgers’ later work. Despite success and acclaim for Rodgers and guitarist Paul Kossoff, Free dissolved in 1973 when bassist Andy Fraser returned to his band Sharks.

Free in Amsterdam 1970 (l-r) Kossoff, Fraser, Kirke, Rodgers, and Winwood

Free in Amsterdam 1970 (l-r) Kossoff, Fraser, Kirke, Rodgers, and guest Winwood

Rodgers and drummer Simon Kirke then teamed with guitarist Mick Ralphs ( Mott the Hoople ) and bassist Boz Burrell ( King Crimson ) to form Bad Company.  The band’s sound showcased Rodgers’ vocals and Ralphs’ sparse guitar work ( one critic groused that you had to squeeze solos out of Ralphs like a lemon ) .  Rodgers took some interesting turns after Bad Company, including a Muddy Waters-themed tour with (Santana and Journey) axeman Neil Schon and later fronting a post- Freddie Mercury version of Queen.

Regrettably, Boz Burrell died in 2006, and  Mick Ralphs had to miss the current Bad Company tour for health reasons, but Rodgers and Kirke -the original singer and drummer from Free and Bad Co – made the ride this time, ensuring that the bands’ trademark sound would essentially be intact.The rest of the band this tour will also include former Heart member and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Howard Leese (guitar) and Todd Ronning (bass), both longtime members of Rodgers’s solo group. And while  The Black Crowes’ estimable Rich Robinson, a late tour addition after Ralphs cancelled, was stashed in the background until the encore, veteran guitarist Leese held his own on the lead solos that the fans knew well.Their eponymous first LP holds up remarkably 40 years on , and essentially was the set list for this show, with the addition of later hits ” The Sky Is Burning” and  ” Rock and Roll Fantasy “.  Highlights included smoking versions of ” Moving On ” , ” Bad Company “, Burrell’s great ” She’s Gone “, and ” Rock Steady “, with Robinson finally stepping up to deliver a scorching solo to cap the encore, as well as an acoustic version of ” Seagull “, with Rodgers, Leese, Robinson, and even Kirke on guitars.

Sadly, the only Free tune was in the intermission soundtrack, the late Michael” Iron Man ” Burks’ red-hot cover of ” Fire and Water “, but the replay of the Bad Company LP was more than enough to satisfy the Boomers that packed the sold-out iconic venue. On the heels of Joe Walsh’s set, no one could deny the promoters’ assertion that this would be   ” One Hell of A Night “.

Life has also been good to our Rocky Mountain correstpondent Nanker Phledge. Thanks, Nanks! – Editors.