It was a crowd of happy, mostly gray-haired folk at the America’s performance Tuesday night at the Caesarea amphitheater.
“I don’t think we’ve ever played in a place quite as beautiful as this,” said Gerry Beckley, looking out at the ancient stone steps of the Roman amphitheater, filled with fans at the sold-out show.
Beckley and Dewey Bunnell, his musical partner of the last 48 years, have performed in plenty of places, noted Beckley, done 100 shows a year during that time.
They played to a sold-out crowd Tuesday night in Caesarea, and will be performing again on Wednesday night in the ancient venue.
Their years of experience were clear, as the pair of sixtyish musicians offered a tight, well-rehearsed show, moving smoothly between songs. They played a mix of well-known pieces, as well as some favorites from other bands including The Beatles, with whom they shared manager George Martin.
They reminisced about the past but didn’t dwell on it, with video montages above the stage of their former long-haired ’70s selves, and scenes of California beaches and surfers, along with desert highways. The memories extended to the song list, which included The Mamas and the Papas’ “California Dreaming,” a crowd favorite that Beckley said he wished he’d written.
“We once played with the Beach Boys and the Mamas and the Papas, and we all had it on our set list,” he said.
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The Israeli fans sang along readily, whether it was America’s classic 1982 hit “You Can Do Magic” or music from their first album from 1972 — “set your way back machine to 1972,” said Beckley — from which they pulled three songs.
It was easy enough to close one’s eyes and imagine the younger versions of these two white-haired dudes, Bunnell once again rocking some long wavy hair, their voices still sweet, lilting, poignant.
Beckley and Bunnell were generous onstage, offering solos and kudos to bassist Richard Campbell, percussionist Ryland Steen and guitarist Andy Barr.
“I think we were playing comebacks before he was born,” said Beckley of Barr.
The show opened with a set by local musician Geva Alon, a favorite among the classic rock and folk music lovers scene, whose rockabilly blues recalled the sound of a youthful Neil Young and set the stage for the folky rock of America.
“It’s very fun to be on this stage, thanks to America,” said Alon.
The band had planned to play Israel in 2014, which would have been their first performance in Israel, but they canceled during the tense period of that summer’s conflict in Gaza. At the time, the duo promised to make it to Israel, wanting to please disappointed fans.
At the end of Tuesday night’s 105-minute performance, the pair saved their favorite song for last, leaving “A Horse with No Name” for their encore — but not without joking about it.
“Oh my God, we forgot one, “Stairway to Heaven,” said Beckley.
But they knew well enough to leave it as is, harmonies hanging sweetly in the air. “We’ll leave you with this one,” said Bunnell. “America loves Israel!”