BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene
Christopher Cross could be sitting next to you right now on an airplane and you would probably have no idea.
The voice (and pen) behind such early-‘80s classics as triple Grammy winner “Sailing,” the pump-up-for-a-bike-race favorite “Ride Like the Wind” and the tender eulogy, “Think of Laura” is such an unassuming fellow that he surely is able to blend in easily at his local Starbucks.
Cross returned to Atlanta on Monday for a nearly sold-out show at the Variety Playhouse (he played Cobb Energy Centre for the Performing Arts in 2014 as part of Dave Koz’s Christmas tour) - the last date of the current U.S. tour - and provided fans with an appreciated set list.
Clad in slacks, a plaid shirt and cap, Cross and his four-piece band and two backup singers hit a couple of major hits early. While Cross’ soft tones forced some strained listening on “Never Be the Same,” he presented a “Sailing” that was as dreamy as ever, replete with video showcasing song-appropriate images, such as flamingos and, yes, sailboats.
Cross, 66, is a quiet presence onstage who doesn’t move much except to pluck a guitar from the rack surrounding him, but his self-deprecating wit was apparent.
Before performing “Wishing Well,” from his 1995 “Window” release, Cross joked that many of his albums were out of print and would likely be found at garage sales (“Window,” however, is very much still available online).
While Cross knows that fans want to hear the melodically infused soft rock hits of the pre-MTV era that have made him a favorite on “yacht rock” playlists, he also offered subtle reminders of his guitar talents that casual fans might not realize.
“Wishing Well” spotlighted a searing electric guitar solo, and his gentle picking, accompanied by piano, on “Think of Laura” was lovely. He and the band detoured admirably into jazz-pop on “I Really Don’t Know Know Anymore,” and Cross also inserted new material from his well-received “Take Me As I Am” album, released last year, with the opening instrumental, “Haila.”
The audience swooned for the perfectly glistening “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)" - which earned Cross and co-writers Burt Bacharach, Carole Bayer Sager and Peter Allen a best song Oscar in 1981 - with even the recognizable saxophone solo garnering its own set of cheers.
Fans used to the familiar might have cringed at the odd arrangement of “All Right,” during which Cross’ backup duo handled most of the singing, but a mid-song interlude including a solid drum solo from Keith Carlock pulled it back from the edge.
No, there was never anything hip about Cross. And there still isn’t.
But there was plenty of beauty and heart in his compositions. And there still is.