When I was little growing up in St. Paul, we had an old turntable that I used as my own personal DJ station. The volume, treble and bass knobs let me create simple “mixes” on the fly, which I thought sounded awesome. The smaller 45 rpm singles were my main source of entertainment, which I eagerly used my allowance on every few weeks at the old Montgomery Ward on University Avenue. Full-size LPs were an expensive luxury, so I only got those a few times a year as gifts (Donna Summer’s On the Radio and Eagles Live were two favorites).
I remember numbering my 45s and hanging them on nails in my closet. One of the early single digit platters was America’s A Horse with No Name, which I loved to mix because it started off so quietly. Played the heck out of that one. When I bought my first bird, Ken the cockatiel, we had a silly inside joke about changing the lyrics to “I’ve been through the desert on a chicken named Ken.”
My parents owned History, America’s Greatest Hits on vinyl, so I learned about all of their other songs: Sister Golden Hair, Ventura Highway, I Need You, Sandman, Tin Man and, one that spoke to me as a personal anthem, Lonely People. Never had seen them live, but that changed last Friday at 7:30pm, when Colleen and I drove up to Grand Casino Hinckley.
Wasn’t really sure what to expect, since one of the original three members, Dan Peek, died in 2011. The two surviving members, Dewey Bunnell and Gerry Beckley, were joined by the former touring bassist from Three Dog Night (Richard Campbell), the former drummer from ska band Reel Big Fish (Ryland Steen) and a talented young guitarist named Bill Worrell, who is the son of their sound engineer (Bill’s LinkedIn profile here).
The show had no opener and started right on time with an interesting video collage of vintage photos and videos of their 45+ year career. This was my first show in the ballroom at Hinckley and I didn’t really like it much – the seats were too close together, row 13 seemed really far away from the stage and we couldn’t see behind the tall people in front of us. They also didn’t have the guitars or the lead vocals connected for the first 15-20 seconds of the opening song, which was a bummer.
The biggest letdown, though, were the voices of Dewey and Gerry. The former sounded fine (but would lose power halfway through each song), while the latter just sounded weird (one reviewer said it sounded like a sick chipmunk). Apparently all three original members wrote songs and whoever wrote the song would sing lead. That meant the Dan Peek songs were basically covers (Don’t Cross the River, Lonely People, Woman Tonight) and all of the Beckley songs were weird (I Need You, Sister Golden Hair, Daisy Jane). I thought Sandman and Ventura Highway sounded the best overall and had high hopes for the closing song (which I learned was originally called Desert Song). Dewey was pretty much out of juice by that point of the night, though.
They did have some good between-song banter and it was fun to hear stories about George Martin becoming their producer after the first three albums. Seemed really strange they didn’t have any merch to sell – we heard several people in the crowd wanting to buy stuff.
We stopped for a late dinner afterwards at Grand Grill Americana, which surprisingly had a very short post-concert line. Colleen had a dinner salad and the fish fry, while I had a cup of Marge’s wild rice soup (which had yucky mushrooms) and the Nueske’s® bacon chicken sandwich with fresh-cut chips. I’ve been mostly happy with the food at this restaurant, but the service always seems to be slow. This night had the added frustration of several manager type people just standing around talking to each other and not doing anything to improve service delivery.
After spending a lot more time at Mystic Lake since I’ve been back in the Twin Cities, I have to say I now prefer them in every area: better players club benefits, much better food, better entertainment venues, no comparison between golf courses, nicer hotel rooms and a better gaming floor. We did hit a butterfly progressive on Black Orchid, but I find it harder and harder to justify an hour and 15 minute drive that way (sorry, Mel). The new bar was nice looking, but I just don’t drink those craft beers…
Next casino show: Foreigner at Mystic on 4/9