Joe Walsh fills Kirby Center with blazing guitar work, hits from the ’70s
WILKES-BARRE — Joe Walsh’s enduring career as both songwriter and guitar slinger has produced decades worth of fans who have hits from different eras of his career committed to memory.
On Thursday night, Walsh gave them exactly what they wanted.
Walsh and company took the stage in front of a packed house at the F.M. Kirby Center, supported by opening act JD & the Straight Shot, and performed a ’70s-heavy set featuring songs from his time with the James Gang, Barnstorm, and the Eagles as well as tunes from his early solo career.
Opener JD & The Straight Shot, fronted by media mogul and New York Knicks owner James Dolan, took the stage with a seven-piece ensemble but delivered the stripped-down sound of an old timey jug band.
Dolan’s collection of skillful players escorted his soulful, raspy voice through the swampy bluegrass tune “Perdition,” with its ominous chorus, “I can tell by the look in your eyes you’re headed to Perdition,” and its elegant violin punctuation.
Another set highlight was the vaudevillian sounding “I Know You Know I Know,” a song about forbidden love, and the band closed the set with an improvised version of Little Feet’s “Let It Roll,” prompting the crowd to get loud for the first time.
When Walsh walked out with his band of seven musicians and four background vocalists, he wasted little time getting to crowd favorites.
He and session giant Waddy Wachtel traded guitar licks in an intro into the James Gang’s “Walk Away.” Jimmy Wallace’s keyboard work added a fresh element to a tune that was originally done by a trio, and the Kirby Crowd erupted.
The band followed up with the sole hit from the modern era, “Analog Man,” Walsh’s lamentation of growing digital dependency. “It’s no coincidence you’re going to film this with your phone and miss the whole song,” he joked.
A cover of Sly & The Family Stone’s “Everyday People” featured the powerful vocals of Rickey Washington before Walsh launched into a medley featuring Barnstorm’s “Mother Says” and the James Gang’s “The Bomber: Closet Queen/Bolero/Cast Your Fate To The Wind.”
The medley had a jammy feel with Walsh laying down a bout of epic psychedelia as well as slide play that reminded the audience of why he’s one of the best in the business.
A touching moment came next when Walsh dedicated “Take It To The Limit” to his friend and Eagles bandmate Glenn Frey who died in January. The song brought on goosebumps and a standing ovation.
Walsh started the next song with inspired fret work full of bends, swells and wah-wah, which led into “Turn To Stone.” Wachtel’s sorrowful blues work transitioned into Walsh bending notes to the heavens like only he can, taking the song from peak to sonic peak.
“In The City” showcased Walsh’s jam chops as he built and resolved musical tension effortlessly, and “Funk #49” was delivered with an unexpected techno breakdown that turned the Kirby Center into a dance party from decades gone by.
The set was rounded out with anthems “Life’s Been Good” and “Life In The Fast Lane,” bringing the crowd to its feat and leaving it chanting “Joe-Joe-Joe.”
Walsh and crew returned for an encore of “Rocky Mountain Way,” which featured an improvised and exaggerated version of his signature talk-box work, bringing the house to a roar.
Ed D’Amico of Back Mountain said Walsh sounded fantastic.
“He sounded as good as he always did,” D’Amico said. “He’s like a fine wine. He gets better with age.”
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651 or Twitter @TLArts