Fans are used to the musical cross-pollinations of bands such as Chicago and Earth, Wind & Fire sharing a bill and a stage.
But, as Richard Marx noted in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week, it’s tougher for solo acts to find a like-minded and similar fan-demographic partner (can we name any artists who succeeded at this other than Billy Joel and Elton John?).
All hail the manager who prodded pals Marx and Rick Springfield – who have known each other for three decades and are both Malibu dwellers – to take their joint act on the road last December.
The twosome has played a few pockets of dates in the ensuing year, and on Tuesday brought their hits-packed gig to Atlanta Symphony Hall (they play in Augusta on Wednesday ), where they engaged a primarily female audience – of varying degrees of inebriation and chattiness – for nearly three hours.
These maestros of melody don’t need any accompaniment because the spines of their songs are indestructible and capable of soaring in their sparsest form. And so the stage was dotted with acoustic guitars, a piano (for Marx) and a laptop for occasional electronic accoutrements (for Springfield).
Marx, a slight figure in shades of black and gray, emerged first for an hour-long set that highlighted his massive catalog. “Satisfied,” “Take This Heart” and “Keep Coming Back” all made early appearances, as well as the eerie “Hazard,” which worked well powered only by a tightly strummed guitar.
Anyone who has spent time with Marx in concert before knows of his winking sense of humor. He was in chipper form on this night as he told amusing stories about the fans who still approach him to ask if “Hazard” is autobiographical and one guy at another show who requested “Summer of ’69,” thinking Marx was its creator (and yes, he played it, both then and on Tuesday).
Marx and Springfield are both engaging personalities with admirable self-awareness – and both happen to also be underrated musicians.
Marx’s distinctive voice was filled with emotion and a hint of rasp as he untethered “Hold On To the Nights” (which took on a new beauty in its guitar form) and “Now and Forever.” He also wisely reminded the crowd – which seemed divided in its loyalty for the well-coiffed duo – of his extensive songwriting background by playing snippets of songs he wrote for Luther Vandross (“Dance with My Father), ‘N Sync (“This I Promise You”) and Keith Urban (“Better Life”).
For both Marx and Springfield, the highlights of their respective sets were their most vulnerable offerings.
With Marx, it was during his more recent hit, “When You Loved Me,” which provided him an opportunity to talk lovingly about his three grown sons, who assisted him on the tune. Marx played along to a video of the guys recording the song in the studio – a sweet touch and rare glimpse of family life.
Springfield’s opening salvo included his early-‘80s favorites “I Get Excited” and “Love it Alright Tonight,” which he performed in between telling stories about his ancestors and showing a copy of a boyhood report card (no surprise, “Richard” needed to stop missing class and concentrate!).
His melding of “Jessie’s Girl” with Tommy Tutone’s “867-5309/Jenny” and Fountains of Wayne’s “Stacy’s Mom” was inspired, clever and funny, and he demonstrated his quick wit when a guy in the front row dashed out in the middle of “Human Touch.”
“Seriously, dude?” Springfield said, jokingly, as he briefly stopped the song to tease some more.
His voice strong and clear, Springfield was also in a jovial mood as he shared stories behind his songs (he dubbed “Don’t Talk to Strangers” his tale of “sexual paranoia”) and to close his solo portion, explained the backstory (for those few who still don’t know) about “Jessie’s Girl.”
But it was his self-described “orphan suite” that will resonate far beyond Tuesday’s performance.
Springfield, as fans know, is an emotional guy. But the rawness with which he delivered “4 Billion Heartbeats,” written after his 96-year-old mom died last December, and his soul-gripping “My Father’s Chair,” a cherished track on 1985’s “Tao” album, was piercing.
Standing at the foot of the stage, sans microphone and voice wavering, Springfield sang the second verse of the song written after his father’s death more than 30 years ago, but clearly no less painful to perform.
Moments such as that – as well as the light-hearted singalong at the close of the show when Marx and Springfield performed four songs from their respective catalogs (“Don’t Mean Nothing” and “Affair of the Heart” among them) – provide meaning along with the memories.