Joe Walsh has been talking about how the key to wrapping up his first album in 20 years was giving up his taste for vodka.
It's undoubtedly a good thing when someone is able to overcome such an obstacle, but it did raise a big question for fans entering Stage AE Saturday night: Would a sober Joe Walsh be as lovably goofy as he ever was? And would he still sing, well, like he's kinda drunk?
The answer is that Mr. Walsh is the same wacky guy regardless of what he drinks before the show (that one old Syria Mosque gig aside). His last few times through were in service to the Eagles, where he only takes the lead on several tunes, so it was nice to see a full 15-song set from the veteran singer-guitarist who has a hit-filled back catalog.
He didn't exactly come out with a bang, as Mr. Walsh, wearing a white blazer over a black Ramones T-shirt, eased into the set with "Welcome to the Club" and "Life of Illusion," both a bit non-descript. His band was stacked with three backup singers and two drummers, for no apparent reason (both seemed to be playing slow to me for most of the night).
The first highlight, other than his anecdote of partying with Keith Moon at the Mosque, came with the opening chords and dramatic first line -- "Somewhere out on that horizon" -- of "In the City," a song that has everything you need in a classic track. He represented the new album, "Analog Man," with a title song about his non-digital instincts ("Left to my own devices, I like side B," he said), and "Lucky That Way," which he referred to as a sort of sequel to "Life's Been Good," although not nearly as funny.
Other than that there were only two other songs in the main set that may have been unfamiliar to the casual fan -- The James Gang's "The Bomber," during which he shot figurative sparks out of his Flying V, and "Personal Manager," a talking blues tune that served as a rant against the music industry and men with ties: "I don't like record companies much, and I'm glad their gone," he said.
He stopped to pay tribute to the great Levon Helm, deferring to his backup singers on a gospel-drenched "I Shall Be Released." The rest was a parade of some of the greatest riffs from the classic rock repertoire. He said, "If I knew I would have to play this song the rest of my life, I would have written something else," before launching into a version of "Rocky Mountain Way," complete with an extended talkbox solo, that didn't feel the slightest bit jaded.
"Walk Away" and "Funk #49" were gritty James Gang goodness that had the crowd up and grooving. "Turn to Stone" sounded like his answer to Hendrix's take on "All Along the Watchtower," with a long, disco-ball accompanied display of his guitar heroics. "Life's Been Good" went beyond being one of the best songs about rock stardom and felt like a celebration of a life and Hall of Fame career. And while the hits were flowing, why not top things off with a "Life in the Fast Lane" that had Mr. Walsh acing every note and giving Don Henley a run for his money.
He sent us home with the roadhouse blues of "All Night Long," but right before that he uncovered a little thing called "I Like Big [Breasts]." "It started out as a beautiful love song," he said. "I'm not sure what happened. I must have stayed up too late or something." He also said, "If I offend anyone with this next song ..." then blew a raspberry. It was offensive all right, but pretty hilarious, too. You can google it -- at your own risk.
As for a Joe Walsh concert, from a fan perspective, there's little risk involved.
Scott Mervis: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2576. First Published June 3, 2012 1:30 AM