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POP WEEKEND : In a Show of Mostly ‘Classic Rock,’ Joe Walsh Plays It Loose and Loony

No one is likely to accuse Joe Walsh of being too stiff or serious on stage. In fact, opening a two-night stand at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano on Friday, he was very loose in the early set and, one guesses, even looser in the late one.

For the nearly two decades that Walsh has been rocking professionally, he’s been a skillful, often-inspired guitarist, a funny and/or weird guy, and an erratic though often fine songwriter--approximately in that order.

Before he played a note Friday, he dispensed a dose of his tilted commentary, telling the crowd: “You can just sit there and burp and get the mashed potatoes out of your ears.” Given Walsh’s penchant for goofiness--sometimes at the expense of everything else, including well-written songs--he could have been announcing the title of the opening number.

Nah. It was just Joe establishing the show’s sometimes funny, sometimes fuzzy tone--before kicking in to “Welcome to the Club,” from his 1974 solo LP, “So What.”

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Two songs later, Walsh had represented the three phases of his career: He followed “Welcome” with “Walk Away” from his pre-solo days with the James Gang, then moved into “Life in the Fast Lane” from his stint with the Eagles, but not before revealing: “Don Henley’s my favorite Eagle--besides me.”

The set continued to operate as a kind of greatest-hits grab bag. Which makes some sense, because at $27.50 a ticket it should be a crowd-pleaser in terms of content, especially since it was a little skimpy in length: 75 minutes.

There’s a downside to this approach: It was about as contemporary as spending an hour or so listening to a “classic rock” radio station. Then again, there weren’t a lot of shouted requests for selections from his “Got Any Gum?” album, which was a monumental flop last year.

Walsh has never taken himself too seriously--certainly not as a trenchant, modern artiste --so he was content to keep slapping together the old faves (“In The City,” “Rocky Mountain Way,” etc.) interspersed with the goofball patter.

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Somewhat surprisingly, given the acutely relaxed nature of the performance, his guitar-playing was quite solid and on-the-mark, far more so than his joke-telling.

But rather than the heavy-handed fret-grinding that sometimes characterizes his work--especially live--Walsh tended to go for tasteful understatement. This was true of both lighter, winsome pieces (“Life’s Been Good”) and bigger, harder anthems (“Rocky Mountain Way”).

Aside from a few rambling anecdotes and jokes that got away, chalk one up for playing it loose.


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