While he might have termed himself in song as an “Ordinary Average Guy,” Joe Walsh came home to Cleveland for a rare solo band show at the State Theatre, and proved over the course of a tight and economically paced 85 minute set that he’s anything but, especially when it comes to the guitar.

Walsh and Cleveland go way back - the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer was an Ohio transplant who attended classes at Kent State University in the area. He cut his teeth with a number of early bands including The Measles and later of course, the James Gang. Even after all of these years, Walsh still has a soft spot for Cleveland, whose residents,  as he noted in our interview, had his back during his formative years.

Currently, Walsh is on his most extensive run of solo tour dates in quite a while - he's got an extended break from his normal “day job” as a guitarist/vocalist with the Eagles. It’s well-timed too, as the shows serve to set the table for Walsh’s first solo album in 20 years, ‘Analog Man,’ which he recently completed for a tentatively scheduled February 2012 release.

While an Eagles show can feel like more of an overly calculated and tightly produced affair for the wine and cheese crowd, a solo Walsh gig feels more appropriately like a rock show, which is exactly what it was. Dressed down in a black t-shirt and jeans (and looking damn good for allegedly being 63 years young), Walsh kicked things off with a blistering rendition of ‘Welcome To The Club,’ the album opening cut from his 1974 solo release ‘So What.’ This unexpected lead-off choice was the first sign that the evening’s musical choices wouldn’t lead to a by the book “greatest hits” type of set.

The enlarged eight piece backing band was the only hint that a member of the Eagles might be on stage, with Walsh’s own guitar playing augmented by a second guitarist, plus keyboards, two (!) drummers and three backing vocalists (Giulietta Ciambotti, Marilyn Martin and Ricky Washington) who got their own spotlight moment when they took lead vocals on a spiritually charged cover of ‘I Shall Be Released,’ in which Walsh simply played guitar and sang along on the choruses. It was a moment that perhaps intentionally and somewhat silently acknowledged Walsh’s triumph in recent years over his own demons.

As promised, there was also new material, with Walsh debuting ‘Wrecking Ball,’ a freshly crunching guitar heavy song from his upcoming album. Even in the live setting, Jeff Lynne’s production influence was evident, with stacks of vocals putting the background vocalists to good use. The drums were firmly situated in the pocket in such a way that you could almost already hear that trademarked Lynne sound that will likely be present on the recorded version.

But most importantly, if ‘Wrecking Ball’ is any indicator, ‘Analog Man’ is going to rock, maintaining the fine tradition we’ve come to expect from Joe Walsh as an artist. No matter how much influence Lynne might have had on the song’s overall direction, there was a nice big slot in the middle of the song that left Walsh plenty of room to unleash a ripper of a guitar solo.

While Walsh’s contributions to the most recent Eagles album were unremarkable, ‘Wrecking Ball’ suggests that when he's removed from the constraints of music by committee, we’re really going to see him get back to that classic signature Joe Walsh sound, which would be a welcome return.

Changing guitars after nearly every song, including a pre-talkbox moment guitar swap in the midst of ‘Rocky Mountain Way,’ Walsh’s set after all dominated by plenty of classics, with a number of hometown dedications, including the James Gang staple ‘Walk Away,’ which Walsh sent out to James Gang members (“my brothers”) Jimmy Fox and Dale Peters, who were in attendance. Early James Gang member Glenn Schwartz, still a fixture in the Cleveland music scene,  was also in the house, and Walsh dedicated a short cover of Albert King’s ‘Personal Manager’ to him later in the set, prior to segueing into another James Gang favorite, ‘Funk #49.’

By the time he wrapped things up with his own take on the Eagles’ ‘Life In The Fast Lane,’ Walsh had been on stage for a short but satisfying 75 minute main set. He opened his two song encore with the 1983 ‘You Bought It, You Name It’ album nugget ‘I Like Big T-ts,’ the first genuinely bawdy moment of a night that otherwise found the career spanning ‘Clown Prince of Rock and Roll’ on fairly good behavior. Walsh introduced the song as a “beautiful love song” and quipped, “I don’t know what happened.”

We’re not sure either, but it certainly was an electrifying and exciting evening of music from Joe Walsh. Hopefully with a new album on the horizon, we won’t have to wait so long for the next show.

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