Any time a band whose career’s biggest hits came a decade before this year’s graduating class was born takes the stage, it can be a bit uneasy. Such was the case when Australian soft rock kings Air Supply came to town Friday night to play for a sold-out audience at the Seneca Niagara Casino.
Would Russell Hitchcock still have that smooth, ’70s voice that taught a generation of women what real love was?
Would Graham Russell, his musical partner for four decades, have anything left in the tank?
Or, would the duo, backed by musicians, most of whom weren’t born when the group’s first hit, “Lost in Love,” was released, leave you wondering if they were touring simply to squeeze a few extra drops out of the spotlight?
When Hitchcock appeared on stage and launched into one of the band’s signature hits, “Even the Nights Are Better,” it appeared the latter might be the case. His voice sounded strained as he belted out the lyrics, often getting drowned out by his youthful bandmates. The music was off, Hitchcock was off, and one wondered if it was going to be a long night. As it turned out, the opener was an anomaly. Hitchcock found his voice, the band mellowed the sound, and the fans were treated to a magical, albeit it short (75 minute) show.
Casino crowds are a notoriously laid-back bunch, but when the band broke into “Every Woman in the World,” the crowd took notice and the party was on.
At 65, with 40 years in the business, Hitchcock could teach young acts a thing or two about fan appreciation. Throughout the set, he playfully interacted with his audience, waving, joking, and blowing kisses. At one point, he even called out a young fan in the front row, asked the little boy his name (Ryan) and thanked him for coming. It was the kind of old-time showmanship that can be lost on today’s bands, but Hitchcock and Russell were masters.
If the crowd was excited by the showmanship from the stage, when the duo made their way to the floor, it was near bedlam. Russell strolled down one aisle picking his guitar while Hitchcock worked the other side of the room. The aging Aussie crooned the band’s mega-hit love balled, “The One that You Love,” and the fans responded as if to say, “yes we do,” mobbing the singer for hugs, kisses and photos.
Hitchcock gladly obliged, never missing a note. Not surprisingly, when the pair returned to the stage, they garnered the biggest applause of the evening, with most concertgoers rising to their feet.
Like all good groups from an era gone by, Air Supply saved the best for last. When Hitchcock eased in the mellow hit, “Lost in Love,” you could close your eyes, and for those few minutes feel like it was 1980 all over again.
And then, they were gone. Barely an hour after the show began, the band was back on the bus and headed for New York City. But not before they put to bed any notion they were past their prime. Hitchcock has plenty of voice left. Russell can work the crowd and the guitar. And above all, they left no doubt that their songs are truly timeless.