Three Dog Night is a familiar sight at the Pacific Amphitheatre during the OC Fair, having performed there several times since the late 2000s. But Thursday night’s solid 85-minute concert proved quite different. The pre-fair show was the classic rock band’s first symphonic one at the venue and modelled after 2002 album “With the London Symphony Orchestra,” released in conjunction with its 35th anniversary.
The lineup now features keyboardist Eddie Reasoner and co-lead vocalist David Morgan. Both joined last year when Cory Wells and Jimmy Greenspoon died. Alongside lone founding member/lead singer Danny Hutton, guitarist Michael Allsup (a mainstay since 1968), bassist Paul Kingery (in service since the ’80s), plus drummer Pat Bautz – the group did a bang up job in Costa Mesa.
Following Pacific Symphony’s introductory “Overture,” containing motifs from past Three Dog Night hits, a breezy “Family of Man” launched the proceedings. Before a seamless “Black and White,” Hutton (a congenial host throughout) asked the older-skewing crowd, “Are you ready to go back to the early ’70s? I don’t remember much about it.” Added classical backing during the No. 1 single (on which Hutton originally sang lead) provided a more elegant flair. Appropriately enough, I spotted young women, flowers-in-hair, sporting ’60s-styled dresses and sunglasses, not unlike ones seen at Coachella.
Morgan’s gritty, Stephen Stills-styled vocals on the acoustic guitar-driven “Never Been to Spain” and Allsup’s multiple guitar solos fared well, as did the energetic full-bodied harmonies of “Shambala.” Hutton dedicated the idyllic Paul Williams penned “Out in the Country” to “nature lovers who like to hike and fish.”
“Easy to Be Hard” – a top 10 hit in 1969 from the Broadway musical “Hair” – saw Hutton savor some vocal one-upmanship with Morgan during the tranquil-to-dramatic buildup. Then Kingery displayed his own impressive soulful grit on Allen Toussaint’s rollicking “Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues).” It received a loud response.
Three Dog Night exited the stage as the symphony did an interlude, but quickly returned for Harry Nilsson’s “One” just a few minutes later. Here, Kingery really excelled on vocals. Scattered fans danced while the string section beefed up the drama. Hutton recalled Joe Cocker with his sandpaper delivery on the romantic “Let Me Serenade You,” while the spirited group harmonies amid “Old Fashioned Love Song” made it a standout.
Before doing playful John Hiatt tune “Sure as I’m Sittin’ Here,” Morgan talked about aging and living life to the fullest. Hutton also shared a lengthy story revolving around the good old ’60s days living in star studded Laurel Canyon. Then the band’s intensely psychedelic rock take on Russ Ballard’s “Liar” showed there were no signs of rust from these veterans. More concertgoers stood up to dance when Bautz took over the whimsical lead vocals during Randy Newman’s “Mama Told Me (Not to Come).” The refrain on “Celebrate” was definitely adhered to by fans.
Then sheet music stands were brought out for a riveting encore of “Prayer for the Children,” done a cappella style. The emotional 2009 Three Dog Night single was reminiscent of CSN and worth the price of admission alone. Finally, “Joy to the World” was a jubilant singalong.