On a warm northwest Ohio night in late May when the air stirs just a little and the sun is bright and lazy after a long day, the Toledo Zoo Amphitheatre is a musician’s secret weapon, providing an ideal setting.
But when it’s like it was outside Thursday night — dark and dreary, intermittent cold rain falling lightly — the beautiful outdoor venue seems gray and drab. The bleachers are cold, the energy wanes, and only a true pro can cut through the funky chill and warm things up.
Ladies and gentlemen, Joe Walsh.
The veteran rocker, who at 64 still has a laconic stoner’s laid-back vibe, thoroughly entertained 2,400 concert-goers at his concert Thursday, plowing through a fun 95-minute set seeded with classic rock staples, a few mega-hits like “Life’s Been Good,” and two new songs from his upcoming album.
By the time the show was winding down, the rain was picking up, but virtually everyone was standing as Walsh jammed on the Eagles’ “All Night Long” and he was clearly having as good a time as the crowd.
Over the course of the 15-song concert he reminded everyone of the brilliance of his backlog of material from his time with the James Gang, his solo material and his years with the Eagles.
There are basically two incarnations of Walsh as a musician. One is the crafty songwriter of mid-tempo melodic songs that are tight, lyrically clever, and poppy. That side of his approach was represented by the opener, “Welcome to the Club,” along with “Life of Illusion,” “In the City,” and one of his new songs, “Lucky That Way.”
The other Walsh is one of the great under-appreciated guitarists of his time who can hammer out big meaty rockers like “Rocky Mountain Way,” “Life in the Fast Lane,” “Turn to Stone,” “Walk Away” and “Funk #49,” all of which were highlights of the show.
“Turn to Stone” served as an excellent example of Walsh’s fluid, flexible style, starting with the instantly recognizable thrust of power chords before evolving into a jazzy jam that alternated between stinging lead lines and slurry distortion.
At times the concert felt a bit meandering, perhaps because of the gloomy weather and the large swaths of empty seats. But Walsh won everyone over with his chatty, good-natured charm and willingness to please. He was completely engaged with the audience, cracking jokes about playing at a zoo and telling stories about himself and friends.
Sober since 1994, the former notorious hard partier has a Yogi Berra-like sense of humor, casually tossing off weird malapropisms. When a guitar tech came up to fiddle with his strap, Walsh introduced the man and said, “He doesn’t say much, but when he does say something, it’s not much.”
He introduced the title cut of his new album “Analog Man” (to be released Tuesday) with a funny bit about technology and talked a little bit about The Band drummer Levon Helm’s death, mentioning that he played with him over the years and performing a stirring version of the Bob Dylan-penned Band song “I Shall Be Released.”
The second-to-last song was a bawdy ode to a woman’s anatomy, the title of which will not appear in this newspaper (or online, for that matter.) And by then it didn’t matter if it was raining, if it was a week night, or if you had bills to pay and mouths to feed.
Joe Walsh was playing and life felt good.
TOLEDO ZOO CONCERT SET LIST:
"Welcome to the Club"
"Life of Illusion"
"In the City"
"Rocky Mountain Way"
"I Shall Be Released"
"Lucky That Way"
"Turn to Stone"
"Life's Been Good"
"Life in the Fast Lane"
"I Like..." (full title not appropriate for a newspaper)
"All Night Long"
Contact Rod Lockwood at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6159.