There are the Rick Springfield fans who attend his shows simply to hear the mega-hits – the ubiquitous “Love Somebody,” “Don’t Talk to Strangers” and the played-to-death “Jessie’s Girl.”
If it isn’t familiar, they’re up and heading to the bar.
Then there are the fans who appreciate the deeper dives – the heartbreaking hymn for his deceased dad (“My Father’s Chair”), his triumphant battle for self-acceptance (“World Start Turning”) and dozens more songs from his four-decade catalog.
Springfield’s return to Atlanta placated both groups (though the drink-getting-uppers were significantly annoying during some of the most poignant moments of the concert). He’s sprinkling his usual summer run of casinos and fairs with symphony shows to complement his current release, “Orchestrating My Life,” a collection of (mostly) hits re-recorded as symphonic rock.
On Thursday night, he and his four-piece band presented a two-act performance at Atlanta Symphony Hall with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, whom Springfield accurately referred to as “incredible” (he also appreciated that they played loudly to match the bones of his guitar-rock oeuvre).
Opening with a parade of familiar material – “Affair of the Heart,” “I’ve Done Everything for You,” “Souls” (written for wife Barbara, who was in attendance) and “Don’t Talk to Strangers,” Springfield was animated in his Merlot-colored suit, bouncing around the front part of the stage with his guitar and striking it – as always – with clusters of red roses.
A video screen raised above the orchestra was used effectively for visual stimulation (cityscapes rolled by during “Don’t Talk to Strangers,” footage from James Dean movies played as the musicians unfurled “Love is Alright Tonite”), but with so much to watch onstage, it was hardly mandatory.
The ASO was conducted by Orlando-based Chris Confessore, who ran through the entire show with Springfield, his band and the orchestra much of Thursday afternoon.
Despite a couple of minor hiccups (the beat sounded a smidgen off on occasion and a string-quartet version of “I Get Excited” was the only song that didn’t really fly with a classical backdrop), the marriage of Springfield’s melody-driven pop-rock and the textures provided by the ASO was ideal.
A new song on “Orchestrating My Life” written for Springfield’s mother, Eileen, who died in 2016, soared under the power of the string section. Springfield said he wrote “Irreplaceable” for “the best person I’ve ever known” because, “I can’t build monuments or make movies about her, so I wrote a song for her.”
It, coupled with the tender expressions in “April 24, 1981/My Father’s Chair,” spotlighted Springfield’s adeptness at an emotional delivery and his thoughtfulness as a lyricist.
Following a short intermission, Springfield bopped back out in black, guitar strapped on and the orchestra joining in on the three-chord power pop of “Kristina.”
Somewhat unbelievably, Springfield will turn 70 in August. He defied that reality by sliding to his knees near his four backup singers during “I Get Excited” and absolutely commanding the stage during the show’s highlight, “World Start Turning.” Springfield threw his arms open wide during the sweeping chorus, spun around the stage as George Nastos uncorked a stinging guitar solo and bellowed with the passion of a guy who has combatted many demons.
Other underappreciated musical memories – “State of the Heart” and “Celebrate Youth” – also made welcome appearances, along with those inescapable mega-hits.
Springfield tours in many permutations – with his rock band, in “stripped” storytelling form, with buddy Richard Marx – but his pairing with an orchestra has set a new bar of excellence.
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