4 July 2011

Hudson Gardens, Littleton, CO


The South Platte River basin is a pleasant natural break from the suburbia of Denver, CO. A nicely scenic backdrop of the sunset over the Rockies, Hudson Gardens Amphitheatre is similar to, but smaller and more intimate than, the likes of, say, the Fiddler's Green Amphitheatre.

Poco has taken a whirlwind ride of changes through their 42+ year history. Last year a contract dispute resulted in Paul Cotton abruptly and publicly leaving the band that he first joined 40 years earlier. As other strong members such as Randy Meisner, Jim Messina, Richie Furay, and Timothy B. Schmit have left over the years, the band has invariably persevered, often times with surprising success. Time will tell if Paul Cotton's resignation will incur similar results.

The band has hired a new member, the talented Nashville session multi-artist named Michael Webb. Poco is now original member Rusty Young with three musicians hired or re-hired over the last decade.

And, while able to continue showcasing songs Rusty has sung lead on such as "Call It Love" and "Crazy Love", the new lineup has had to substantially re-work versions of their other classics. Rusty & Jack Sundrud now share co-lead vocals on "Rose Of Cimarron". Other tracks, including the Furay-penned "Good Feelin' To Know", now feature Rusty Young capably handling lead guitar duties once dominantly handled by Cotton.

When Paul was still in the band, "Heart Of The Night" evoked strong imagery of a passionate loss of love scene pictured in the Mississippi River Delta area. Poco continues to perform this song live without Cotton, given that the song is one of their three biggest Top 40 hits. But, the new version is dramatically re-worked. Without Paul on lead vocals and guitar, Rusty has switched to mandolin, Jack has assumed lead vocals, and newcomer Michael Webb plays accordion. This reworked version is actually not bad, though it conveys an entirely different emotion, more along the lines of resigned sadness of a love already long gone, almost emblematic of the train that Cotton has long since departed on.

Thankfully, Rusty Young's songwriting catalog is extensive, permitting setlists to remain relatively full despite the large loss of famous songwriters over the years.  This evening, Rusty and band performed "Spellbound", "Grand Junction", a new song called "Neil Young Is Not My Brother", and, ironically, the Neil Young-penned "On The Way Home".

By also performing "Good Feelin' To Know" and "Pickin' Up The Pieces" during the middle of the set, die hard Poconuts quickly realized that Richie Furay would not be making the drive from Lafayette, CO to be "sittin' in".

Rusty paid homage to Timothy B. Schmit by complimenting his songwriting on "Find Out In Time", and by leading the band through "Keep On Tryin'".

I was somewhat surprised that we only heard one Jack Sundrud song, a powerful, extended version of "Hard Country", as well as only one tune from the newest member Michael Webb, namely "Drinkin' 'Bout You". I had figured, with the departure of Paul Cotton, the other songwriters would have secured more stage time.

Micheal Webb is a pretty good keyboard player. The addition of his Hammond B3 adds a fullness to "Call It Love" that hasn't existed in the live version for almost 20 years; his [electronic] piano brings a new flavor to "Rose Of Cimarron" and other tunes. I was curious why Webb played lead guitar on only one track--his blistering electric admiration of the subject of Rusty's new song suggests potential for more spotlights on his fretwork talents.

The new lineup is about halfway through recording a brand new album, with a tentative working title of All Fired Up, which would be their first studio album in about ten years, thus showing an energy/inspiration that hasn't surfaced in the band for a long time.

Don't count Poco out--the upcoming album will prove a telltale as to whether the band's long time practice of re-growth after losing branches of their family tree producing a new, interesting direction, will again surprise their dedicated listening audience.

The show sold out, in large part because of an after-concert fireworks show.

[***1/2] - Steven T.

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