It’s been a good week for geezer nostalgia: Taj Mahal, Bonnie Raitt, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Jackson Browne at the fair—and, last night, Loggins and Messina were at the State Theatre, touring together for only the second time in 30 years (there was a reunion tour in 2005).
Last night’s show was especially satisfying because Loggins and Messina was one of those briefly brilliant partnerships that ended so acrimoniously it didn’t seem possible the two would ever reconcile, let alone play together again. Yet there they were, at the State, serving up hit after hit like cooks at a pancake breakfast. The cynical view is that the potential to make a lot of money brought them back together again after their 2005 reunion was so well received—but judging from the energy and polish that went into this show, I suspect there was a larger motivation once the decision to tour again was made, and that was to reclaim their position as one of the greatest songwriting/arranging duos of all time—one that also, by the way, had a kick-ass band.
The concert started on a mellow note with an acoustic version of Watching the River Run . The band came in about half-way through the song, then delivered a fully orchestrated House at Pooh Corner , adorned with fluttering butterfly flutes and dancing Tigger sax. The strategy, it seemed, was to get some of the golden oldies out of the way before launching into the band’s more adventurous work. Jim Messina sang Travelin’ Blues , then Loggins pulled out his National steel guitar for Long Tail Cat , and followed it up with a Listen to a Country Song/Holiday Hotel medley.
The years have not dulled either man’s talent. Both still sound great, and watching them play gives you a better understanding of how balanced a team they were—and, in particular, how important Jim Messina was/is to the mix. Messina’s voice has the back-country scratch that gives many of their songs their essential texture, and his Carl Perkins-style guitar picking is as distinctive as it is tasteful. On recordings, Messina doesn’t stand out—but live, in concert, he’s the humble soul of the band, even though he’s the most expressionless singer who ever lived; the guy stands so still in front of the mic that you can hardly see his lips move.
After a Georgia on My Mind/Back to Georgia medley, there was an interesting departure, though. For some reason, they decided to sing The Beatles’ The Two of Us , while showing a slideshow of old photos of themselves in the old days that was nostalgic to the point of being cheesy. Then after an inspired, jam-lengthened Be Free , they crossed the line into true cheesiness during Growin’ by—you guessed it—showing a bunch of blooming flowers on the video screen behind them. It was all so . . . 1970s.
At this point, even though the band was cooking and the arrangements superb, a bit too much saccharine was seeping into the mix. They ran through Make a Woman Feel Wanted and Peace of Mind , during which Loggins seemed to sense that the show was lagging. In the middle of the song he ditched his guitar, hopped off the stage into the aisle and led an audience sing-along while clasping hands with people like a Baptist preacher come to save them.
What he did instead was save the show, which kicked into a higher gear altogether for Changes , followed by a wicked Angry Eyes jam, one that allowed both saxophone players to wail away, and gave Jim Messina an opportunity to play some more inspired lead guitar. Sure, these guys were a great pop duo, but what made them special was the sophistication of their arrangements, which blended jazz, fusion, honky-tonk, and country in a way no one ever had—and last night’s performance was a convincing reminder that their legacy is still very much alive.
After an amusing You Need a Man/Coming to You medley, they brought out the steel drums for Vahevela and closed the show with a Your Mama Don’t Dance encore, during which pretty much everyone in the crowd, no matter how arthritic, danced a little bit. They ended with a second encore: an acoustic sing-along of Danny’s Song , which L and M didn’t have to sing much of, since everyone in attendance was eager to demonstrate how deeply that tune has been seared into their collective consciousness. I’m sure most felt lucky to be there, because this concert was never supposed to happen in the first place. That it did is a testament to something—time, forgiveness, compassion, healthy eating, regular exercise, I don’t know—but whatever it signified, the music was right, the band was tight, and it was fun to watch them pick and grin.