Near the end of Rick Springfield's free concert at the Indiana State Fair in the early evening 90+ degree heat Thursday night, the soon-to-be 61 year-old singer waded into the track seats, while singing his 1983 hit "Human Touch". He walked - on the chairs - through the audience, from one end to the other. Then he went up into the grandstand, making his way to the upper section, slapping hands and hanging onto shoulders to keep his balance.
While this move, and an extended version of his 1982 hit "Don't Talk to Strangers” that concluded with four girls, ranging in ages from 4 to 17, singing the chorus - evokes more than a whiff of rock and roll cheese when done at a normal 21-and-over concert, it worked perfectly for the free outdoor show at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. The mix of 40 and 50-something moms and cougars, plus kids, teens and guys who wrongly won’t admit going, mixed into an engaged, tuned-in crowd. It doesn't hurt that Springfield is a relaxed and seasoned musical road dog, having been on stage for more than 40 years.
Many in attendance had seemingly seen a Springfield show before (the Hoosier Lottery lady who came out 15 minutes before the show asked, and more than 50 percent of the hands went into the air), but even those who only know the radio songs were rewarded with the hits - and just couple misses.
Dressed in a black and white checkered button-up shirt, black jeans and Chuck Taylor's, Springfield was aided by a band that recreated the sound of the records on many of Rick's later-career songs, though struggled on a couple of his more power-poppy Working Class Dog hits.
Their harmonies were spot-on and the pounding drums, clean vocals and two guitars fighting for attention in a loud sound system helped make the night a success,.
From the first song (a cut off his new-ish Venus in Overdrive album - one of four he would admirably play off that record) through a pair of encore tunes at the end of the 20-song, 105-minute performance, the band never wilted in what Springfield said midway through the show "May be the hottest show we've ever played. Where are we? In the South?"
Despite the heat, Springfield bounced and whirled and frequently jumped in the air far better than someone his age should be able to do.
Early in the set, "I've Done Everything for You", "Affair of the Heart" and the title cut to the Living in Oz album engaged the crowd of approximately 4,000. The first of those three, one of his best rockers (written by Sammy Hagar) was slightly slowed in the live setting, taking away from the rushing, sugary-rough pop song it is.
A misfire on "What's Victoria's Secret" and it's recycled "Jessie's Girl" riff fell flat before a pair of small hits and one album cut let the band find their sweet spot. "I Get Excited" from Don't Talk to Strangers, followed by "Alyson" and "Souls", both from 1983’s Living in Oz connected in a more rock, less pop way.
Springfield threatened to run some of the free show crowd away with back-to-back songs from the new album: the hopping alt-rock title track that sounds nothing like his hits (though not bad) and a little gem of a midtempo rocker called "I'll Miss That Someday" that Springfield introduced as "about Dads".
Most of audience hung on, and were rewarded with one of the best runs of the show. 1981's "Love is Alright", a version of "Crossroads" that elicited a roar from the grandstands at the song's conclusion, and a disinterested beginning to his mega-hit "Don't Talk to Strangers" that somehow wound it's way into State Fair magic with those four girls on stage singing.
Sure, Rick injected a few groan-inducing, double-entendre comments that still make his female fans cheer and squeal ("Man, it is hot. I'm sweating. Anyone else wet?"), but kept his sex-appeal push at a mostly PG-13 rating (one f-bomb, plus changing shirts at the microphone stand midshow, and playing the encore sans shirt)
A sloppy-but-rocking take on his last big hit "Love Somebody" was saved by the pure pop/rock goodness of the tune. The audience-parting "Human Touch" led into a terrific set-ending "Jessie's Girl" as the tight band clicked with their take on one of the best-ever power-pop songs.
An encore of by-the-numbers "Wild Thing" and Springfield's "Kristina" was not really necessary. But concertgoers hung around for it anyway.
The man who built his career on the convergence of "Jessie's Girl" and playing Dr. Noah Drake on General Hospital in 1981 ain't doing too bad 30 years later. He found fame in an era of FM Top 40 radio that could create mass appeal hits. And he was there for the beginning of MTV. He's probably not headed to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame anytime soon, but I don't think it matters.
Springfield played the hit songs Thursday night, in the daylight, with no video screen or stage backdrop. In the end, it worked; the right combination of price, memories and loud guitars.