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Christopher Cross gives "musically transcendent" performance at 7 Clans Casino

Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report
Red in Red Rock: Christopher Cross played 7 Clans Casino on April 6, 2019.
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RED ROCK, Okla. – On my way to the 7 Clans Casino this past Saturday afternoon, to catch the Christopher Cross concert, I was cruising along I-35 and was turning off at the Perry exit. That’s when I saw it … a rainbow in the sky, off to the northeast.

A sign? An omen? A promise? Perhaps all three, right? The last time this happened to me was when I was driving to Huntsville, Texas, to begin some of my research into “The Stilwell Enigma” in southeast Texas. When I arrived, a rainbow greeted me, stretching across the sky, a colorful smile that seemed to be welcoming me, reminding me all would be well.

And so it was once I arrived at the casino with my young, music-obsessed 8-year-old son. He was familiar with Christopher Cross’s music, and loved “Ride Like The Wind,” a song that is briefly heard during a sing-off (a snail named Ray) in the computer-animated comedy Sing. Weird to think that I was 8 when I first heard "Sailing" for the first time, way back in the baking-hot-summer of '80 as the ashy remnants following the May eruption of Mount St. Helen's still rode the atmospheric currents, reminding humanity that our time on this rock is short. You have to take time and look around sometimes. And Christopher Cross helps provide a soundtrack for doing just that. 

But Cross’s timeless, smooth music and enchanting, distinctive voice is usually played at home or in the car during the warmer months. And with Cross’s most recent album, Take Me As I Am, spinning quite a bit of late (it was one of my top albums of 2018!), not to mention his work with Austin, Texas-based group Freedonia (yes, a reference to the country in the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup).

The 7 Clans Casino, here in Red Rock, has been attracting some bigger touring names of late, and Christopher Cross was one I was very much looking forward to seeing. As we found our seats, we were soon chatting with Ponca City resident Sue Fleck, a teacher and stage actor who loved Cross’s music, noting that the “soothing” quality of his songs helped her through a rough, personal time in her life. Plus, she had seen him live before, at Oklahoma City’s Frontier City theme park around the time of his 1998 album Walking in Avalon (more on that in a sec).

The somewhat small concert venue was made more intimate (as compared to Riverwind Casino, which hosted longtime Cross collaborator and friend Michael McDonald back in December) by the small chairs placed close together. But the crowd was friendly and ready for the comforting familiarity of Christopher Cross.

On stage at 7 Clans Casino - Christopher Cross and his touring band. (Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report)

While not hitting some of the high notes he is known for, his 1983 hit “All Right” sounded better than “all right” to this ear, thanks, also to his crack band of top-shelf musicians performing alongside him, including saxophone player Andy Suzuki, drummer extraordinaire Scott Laningham, keyboardist Sean Giddings, and the enthralling background vocals of Marcia Ramirez (a very kind woman!) and Stephcynie. I didn’t catch the bassist’s name, however. But he did get in some mighty good solos over the course of the show.

The hits kept coming, with “Never Be The Same,” an infectious pop song first featured on his green-colored, flamingo-bedazzled 1979, self-titled debut album, the same record that made “Christopher Cross” a household name (in my house, too!) in 1980-81, when he won Grammy Award for Album of the Year, and rightfully so.

The audience really perked up as the introductory music for “Sailing” began percolating and the talented Texan played those notes on his electric guitar. Musically transcendent. This song has an instant appeal and is now recognized as a key “Yacht Rock” smooth music classic, a dreamy and almost ethereal song that never gets old and has a way of making everything seem, well, a lot better.

“I Really Don’t Know Anymore,” “Say You’ll Be Mine” and the moody “The Light Is On” were also choice cuts from the flamingo album that Cross and his band offered the rapt 7 Clans audience.

Over the course of the two-hour show, Cross – who had a somewhat quiet and reserved personality, as he spoke between songs, even self-deprecatingly so, when talking about the song “Walking in Avalon,” featured on that aforementioned ’98 disc that no one listened to. And doing his best William Shatner impression, told the diehard Cross-heads out there, buying every one of his obscure, later records, to “get a life.”  But said with a sly wink and a smile. As someone who likes the more obscure stuff anyway, I take it as a compliment. For me, singer/songwriter/guitarists like Cross are like contemporaries like Chris Rea, for instance. Solid. Classic. Talented. And still making music. Doing what they do best, despite trends in pop, rock and jazz music. Plus, even though Christopher Cross is a big name in rock, he is still quite accessible. He answers questions on social media (he graciously accepted a copy of my book Rock Catapult, passed on to him by Ms. Ramirez, after the show).

Sure, Christopher Cross was a Grammy winner the same year MTV premiered. And MTV was looking for acts that skewed younger and hipper (Rod Stewart?). And MTV passed Christopher Cross by as the 1980’s wore on. But he stayed true to his music, up to last year’s Take Me As I Am.

Speaking of which, the only song from that album (the tour is called the “Take Me As I Am Tour 2019”) performed was “Roberta,” a song dedicated to his friend, Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell. If I had any complaints it was that there was no merchandise for sale. Not even CD’s of the new album. There may be a reason for this, but I don’t know what it is. I’m sure a lot of the folks in the room – many in their 50’s and older – would have picked up a copy on their way out the door.

And while “No Time for Talk” was great, I was surprised “Think of Laura,” from his second album, Another Page, was not included. But I know there are only so many songs one can perform in the time allotted.

One of my favorite Cross songs is “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do),” released on my ninth birthday, August 14, 1981. In introducing the song, Cross talked about working with Burt Bacharach, Carole Bayer Sager and Peter Allen on the song that was the theme to Arthur, the film that starred Dudley Moore as Arthur, alongside Liza Minnelli. Once again, Cross racked up an award for the song in 1982, winning an Oscar for Best Original Song. Again, rightfully so. Cross also had kind words for the late Dudley Moore as well.

Cross introduced “Reverend Blowhard” as a song about funny/sad song about crooked TV preachers that appeared on his 2014 album Secret Ladder (another track from that album, “V,” was also played), is really engaging, lyrically. Here’s a sample: “Hey buddy, the chosen are few / But you got some ‘splainin’ to do / The hooker that died in your room / And the sailors who tied you with duct tape / And wailed that cat-o-nine-tails / All those tales / That’s one indulgence you could not sell / Your friends of the flesh / Left their surprise from Hell … Uh-huh …

Wow! Pretty hard hitting and topical (although one doesn’t see televangelists on the boob tube as you once did – think of the Genesis single “Jesus He Knows Me,” for instance  - that was in 1992!).

Okay, okay … did they play “Ride Like The Wind”? Of course! That urgent-and-percussive song is legendary in its style, sound and performance from Mr. Cross (and that equally legendary backing vocal from Michael McDonald, made famous by Rick Moranis on SCTV).

But the encore was a pleasant surprise. It was a cover of John Lennon’s secular anthem “Imagine.” Recall that Lennon was assassinated in December 1980, while a young Christopher Cross was riding high on the charts and all over the radio. Bittersweet. And a song that resonates even more in this troubled time of ours.

Hard to believe that was nearly 40 years ago. And yet, Christopher Cross still sounds great and he certainly has an eager legion of fans out there (myself included) ready to make it to that next concert.

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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