January 17, 2019
Soft rock supergroup Air Supply celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2016 with little local fanfare (their most recent Houston date was at the Arena Theater in 2015), even though they’ve toured extensively in the last decade. Graham Russell (the tall one with the guitar) and Russell Hitchcock (the … not tall one) now perform mostly as a nostalgia act, their last album having dropped back in 2010.
And yet one could argue they’ve never fully withdrew from public consciousness. Just in the last few years, their megahit “All Out of Love” showed up in: The Americans, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Ash vs. Evil Dead, and Deadpool 2. Other songs have made similar appearances ("Making Love Out of Nothing at All" plays during a key moment of The Strangers: Prey at Night, for example), all of which traverse a pretty broad demographic spectrum. All this leads to one inescapable conclusion:
Nobody really dislikes Air Supply.
That's if they elicit any reaction at all. Sure, they appeared on some of those “worst band” lists back in the Aughts when people were still making lists like that, but there are no AS album reviews in Rolling Stone’s online archives, for example. Indeed, the most negative thing in the mag was a throwaway jab from KISS’s Gene Simmons, which only makes you like them more.
Last night’s show at Stafford Centre was nearly sold out, a fact which conveniently appears to support my thesis (with an assist from the band's overseas popularity). And in keeping to form for a band that puts the word “love” in 75 percent of their song titles, it was a joyously rowdy experience.
The band kicked things off with “Sweet Dreams” from 1981’s The One That You Love, a song that's normally as rocking as Air Supply gets (the “Sleep!” bridge alone practically makes it that album’s “Master of Puppets”). But GR and RH were backed up by a suitably boisterous ensemble, highlighted by several solos by guitatist Aaron Mclain. Clearly, this was to be more of a rock show. Or at least, rock adjacent.
The pair enjoyed an easy rapport with the crowd, expressing their appreciation at several points during the show (GR singled out the "Stafford royalty" sitting in the balcony), with both men strolling through the crowd during "The One That You Love" to sing, pose for selfies, and risk being mobbed by some of their more overzealous fans. We also learned that: a) they were born four days (and one year) apart, and b) RH has been married five times. Although that last one may be just as much bullshit as GR's assertion the two have never argued.
It was clear from the outset that many in attendance (the band’s fans are called “Airheads,” because sure) were making the most of their Bartles & Jaymes-tinted memories. Bookending a handful of more obscure cuts (2015's "I Adore You" and "Goodbye" from 1993's The Vanishing Race among them) was a selection representing the belle époch of FM radio, with hits like "Even the Nights are Better" and "Every Woman in the World" receiving a rousing response.
Air Supply has 17 studio albums, though roughly 60 percent of the songs in the show come from those released during their early three album '80s heyday. And although they’re not the first band to leverage their old hits into a multi-decade career, Air Supply has made an art out of distilling nostalgia into something approaching fanaticism. I admit, I was taken aback by the enthusiasm of the crowd, enthusiasm that was very hard not to get swept up in.
They closed the set with one of the most powerful MOR radio trifectas in existence: "The One That You Love," "Lost in Love" (fun fact: "Lost in Love" is not actually on the Lost in Love album), and "Making Love Out of Nothing at All," which always sounded like an endorsement of ghost sex. Pretty progressive for 1983.
Last night also reminded me how amusing it was to my junior high self to swap out the band’s actual lyrics for slightly dirtier ones. For example:
Even the days are brighter
When someone you love's
Graham Russell and Russell Hitchcock are remarkably sanguine about their legacy as standard bearers for some of the most soporific extremes of 1970s pop, and their modesty and apparent gratitude for their good fortune appears genuine. And if nobody dislikes Air Supply, they also have a healthy amount of affection for everyone else.
Personal Bias: Had a copy of The One That You Love stashed behind my Pink Floyd: The Wall and London Calling LPs.
The Crowd: Almost equally divided between middle-aged mopes (*cough*) and ... well, see below.
Overheard In The Crowd: "They're still huge in Asia. They play soccer stadiums in the Philippines."
Random Notebook Dump: "Russell Hitchcock needs to play Bilbo in a Lord of the Rings muslcal."
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Even the Nights Are Better
Every Woman in the World
Here I Am (Just When I Thought I Was Over You)
I Adore You
Invisible (poem read)
Son of the Father
Now and Forever
Two Less Lonely People in the World
The One That You Love
Lost in Love
Making Love Out of Nothing at All
Without You (Badfinger cover)
All Out of Love
Random Notebook Dump #2: