America

Live at Central Park 1979

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Generally, when one thinks of a concert in Manhattan's Central Park, one thinks of a free show attended by hundreds of thousands -- Simon & Garfunkel, Elton John, Garth Brooks, etc. So, it is worth noting at the outset that when America played a show in Central Park in the summer of 1979, the group did so as part of a much more modest enterprise, the Dr. Pepper Central Park Music Festival, an annual concert series sponsored by the soft-drink company during the '70s in which an out-of-season ice-skating rink on the south side of the park was filled with folding chairs and tickets were sold. America played before a crowd in the healthy four (or perhaps just barely into the five) figures, but this was nothing like the kinds of shows put on farther north in the park in Sheeps Meadow or the Great Lawn as special events. That said, director Peter Clifton catches Gerry Beckley, Dewey Bunnell and band at a pivotal moment in America's career, the point at which that career was taking a downturn. The group had just released Silent Letter, an album that, unlike their previous eight LPs, failed to reach the Top 30, or even the Top 100 for that matter. While they would mount a minor comeback behind "You Can Do Magic" and View from the Ground in 1982, America's days as a gold-selling act had just ended as they entered Central Park. But that didn't keep the crowd, a gathering of Caucasian twentysomethings with a female-to-male ratio of at least two to one, from enjoying the show, which featured all of America's Top Ten hits to date, plus their cover of the Mamas & the Papas' "California Dreamin'" (which they had recently recorded for the movie California Dreaming), songs from Silent Letter, and more familiar LP tracks from the albums America and Holiday. Clifton's editing removed any communication there may have been between the band and the audience in favor of including second-unit footage shot in California: surfers beneath the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco; night shots of the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles; and scenes of the group members recording what appear to be vocal overdubs of the concert performances. So, the film is a bit cut-and-dried, but it does capture America just past their commercial prime, belting out their hits with sweaty enthusiasm.

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