BY MELISSA RUGGIERI
As the haunting synthesizer opening of “Sweet Dreams” filled the sticky air, the crowd that packed Chastain Park Amphitheatre whooped appreciatively.
Then, guitarist/songwriter Graham Russell, handsome in a pinstriped ensemble, spoke-sung the opening lines and the audience noise escalated.
And then Russell Hitchcock opened his mouth to sing his verse and, at the first millisecond of recognition of his distinctive croon, nearly undiminished by time, a roar swept through the venue.
Welcome back, Air Supply. It’s been far, far too long.
Indeed, Russell and Hitchcock – the latter now a Marietta resident – haven’t played Atlanta since 1996 (also at Chastain) and based on the reception they received in response to their tautly performed sing-along fest, a speedier return is inevitable.
For a bit more than 90 minutes Saturday night, the pair, backed by a crackerjack quartet of musicians, rolled through their parade of hits – including their 10 Top 10 hits from the early ‘80s – with a stirring rock edge.
Oh, sure, their love-heavy ballads are easy to disparage as schmaltz. But anyone who takes the time to listen to the melodic structure of the sumptuous creation that is “Here I Am,” or the tender poetry in “Two Less Lonely People in the World” understands why Air Supply’s music has endured for 40 years.
Russell and Hitchcock have an unspoken chemistry onstage, the type of effortless communication established within four decades of friendship.
Their harmonies cascaded in sync, with Hitchcock’s multi-range tenor the ideal complement to Russell’s reedier vocals. Hitchcock demonstrated often that his voice, while perhaps not the pristine instrument of 30 years ago, is still in robust shape, capable of holding endless notes in “Here I Am” and “Just As I Am.”
Throughout the show, both performers seemed overwhelmed by the ecstatic crowd response. The cheerful Hitchcock, wearing a sparkly belt to offset his black jeans and vest, blew kisses, flashed peace signs and occasionally bent down toward the front rows so fans could blast him with, uh, fans.
Russell, meanwhile, managed the Herculean feat of getting about 60 percent of the Chastain crowd to shut up (a new record?) while he recited a short poem and performed, sans Hitchcock, the pensive ballad, “Me and the River.”
“I’m on a mission to bring the spoken word back, instead of people staring at their phones 24 hours a day,” Russell said.
Hitchcock returned for a brief acoustic segment that spotlighted the romantically perfect “Two Less Lonely People…” before he took a stroll through the crowd to sing “The One That You Love” as he shook hands and posed with fans.
It’s not every concert where an audience of primarily 40-and-50-somethings hops on their chairs not only to catch a glimpse of a performer, but to sing along as if they’re competing on “Lip Sync Battle.”
But Air Supply songs have that effect, whether it was “Lost in Love,” which the band managed to turn into a full-throttle fist-pumper or the slow-building drama of “Making Love Out of Nothing At All.”
Even the pair of new songs that Hitchcock and Russell debuted (as promised during my recent chat with Hitchcock), the gooey “I Adore You,” which fits snugly into their canon of swoon-tunes, and the ‘60s-influenced barroom rocker “Shake It,” engaged the audience.
Kudos to the guys for taking the time to turn the spotlight on their road crew, as well as guitarist Aaron Mclain, bassist Jonni Lightfoot, keyboardist Amir Efrat and drummer Aviv Cohen.
“Please, when you leave here, take a small piece of us with you,” Hitchcock said, sincerely, before an encore that ended with weeper the “All Out of Love,” its lyrical heartbreak belied by another anthemic swoop.
It’s a sound that is Air Supply’s signature, and one that has been severely missed.
Saturday night’s set list:
- Sweet Dreams
- Even the Nights Are Better
- Just As I Am
- Every Woman in the World
- Here I Am
- I Adore You
- Me and the River
- Two Less Lonely People in the World
- The One That You Love
- Lost in Love
- Making Love Out of Nothing at All
- Desert Sea Sky
- Shake It
- All Out of Love