By Rick Kennedy, managing editor
An estimated crowd of 750, who sounded more like 1750, engaged in a sing-along lovefest with the legendary 1970s supergroup Little River Band at Hempstead Hall on Friday night.
Whether it was Little River Band standards like “Happy Anniversary” or “Reminiscing” or “Hang On” or the big finale, an extended guitar-laced version of “Lonesome Loser,” the singing, clapping, dancing and swaying by the audience were proof that the world-famous band had connected with the local crowd in a major way, and the live versions of the classics sounded better than ever before.
And, of course, audience really appreciated when lyrics to hit songs like “Lady” were modified slightly on stage to “Arkansas Lady” or “Razorback Lady” in the chorus, or when lead singer Wayne Nelson mentioned his own family ties to Little Rock.
Nelson, age 68, as the group’s front man proved robust, amicable, funny and even a bit resourceful, when a couple of early jokes went astray, but credit Nelson’s spontaneous interactions and top-notch showmanship providing a engaging and fun audience experience.
The music, like the overall show itself, was crisp and performed well, even as three live guitars on stage brought a more “rocking” and energetic style to the group’s standards than more mellow versions heard on adult contemporary radio.
At times, the guitar riffs on stage sounded jazzy, in the tone of another 70s radio standard, Steely Dan, while others could have well influenced by early-70s Led Zeppelin with various keyboard solos sounding right out of 80s pop radio.
The generally upbeat tempo could be credited to craftsmanship and talent of Nelson, who joined the supergroup in 1981, along with his current 2018 supporting cast of Rich Herring, Chris Marion, Ryan Ricks and Colin Whinnery, none of whom were original group members, but all contributing fresh hooks to the vintage Little River catalog.
The only really “slow” song of the night was the melancholy classic “Take It Easy On Me,” which happened right after a rousing rendition of “Happy Aniversary.”
Even another standard, like “Cool Change” was spiced up considerably by Herring’s guitar solos as was the closer “Lonesome Loser,” which performed Friday resembled more a party, clap-along, sing-along, than the ole to dealing with losses and setbacks as it was known in 1979.
In another twist during the concert, Nelson, dedicated a newer song, Lost and Lonely, and the popular “Hang On” to current military service people, even giving short speeches about the veteran’s bravery and sacrifices.
In an interview with SWARK Today afterwards, Nelson said his intent was not to be political, but rather show appreciation.
“I am able to do what I do, like perform music in Hope, Arkansas on a Friday night, because of the choices, dedication and sacrifices that these young men and women make; it is about recognizing that and saying ‘thanks’ to them,” Nelson said.
With a large number of retired veterans in the audience, Nelson’s message was applauded and well-taken, another element of the lovefest the night became.
Dolly Henley, director of Hempstead Hall, said the on-stage professionalism and engagement of the band was genuine, having worked with them prior to the live performance.
“They put on an incredible show, and they were great to work with; in fact, one of the very best bands and very easy to get along with that I’ve dealt with in a long time,” Henley said.
“There was no doubt in working with them that the audience would receive them well and have a great time,” she said afterwards.
Although Little River Band’s attendance Friday night did not approach the levels of recent country acts like Trace Atkins or Travis Twitt, Henley said pop and rock shows like Little River Band and 38-Special were quality entertainment with excellent performances, and she said that pop and classic rock shows would be welcomed back.
“Our job is to bring quality entertainment here for everyone. Country acts were still our top draw, but nights like tonight prove there is a place here for pop and rock acts, too, and we will continue booking them, whenever we can,” she said.
By Rick Kennedy, managing editor