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Ohio rockers raise money for veterans

Joe Walsh brought “the best of the best” from Ohio back home on Sunday for a good cause.

For Walsh’s fifth VetsAid benefit concert, Walsh reunited with his bandmates in The James Gang, which started in Cleveland and regularly played in the Mahoning Valley before achieving national success. He also assembled an all-star lineup of Buckeyes — Akron’s The Black Keys, Dayton’s The Breeders, Nine Inch Nails (OK, founder Trent Reznor is from just over the border in Mercer, Pa., but he was living in Cleveland and recorded the band’s debut album, “Pretty Hate Machine,” there) and Warren-born Dave Grohl — and brought them all to Columbus, where Walsh grew up, for a sold-out concert at Nationwide Arena that also was livestreamed.

All net proceeds from the concert and merchandise will benefit Ohio-based veterans programs or national organizations that pledged to focus their contributions in the state (donations supporting the cause can be made year round at vetsaid.org, and concert merchandise is available there as well).

Walsh was a toddler when his father, a first lieutenant in the Army Air Corps, was killed in a plane crash while flying maneuvers.

“When I found myself in a position to give back to veterans, who have given so much and ask for so little, how could I not do something?” Walsh said during a news conference before Sunday’s show.

“Seeing as though rock ‘n’ roll seemed to be what I do best, it’s also the least I can do for those who served and continue to serve our country. We started VetsAid bringing together two things that have saved my life over and over again — the friends I’ve made and the music we played together.”

Grohl — who spent some time in Warren before Sunday’s concert, based on what Walsh’s wife and VetsAid co-founder Marjorie Bach said — was billed as a “special guest,” and that’s the role he played. He never took a lead vocal or performed center stage, but he guested with the other artists throughout the night — playing drums at a kit behind The James Gangs’ Jim Fox on “Funk #49,” playing rhythm guitar while Walsh sang “Life’s Been Good” and back to the drums for the night’s finale of “Rocky Mountain Way.”

However, his best appearance was his first, joining the Breeders on guitar and backing vocals for “Gigantic,” which Kim Deal co-wrote and sang when she was with Pixies. Considering that Pixies would make the shortlist of bands that had the biggest influence on Nirvana, it was a perfect pairing.

It also wasn’t the only Mahoning Valley contribution to The Breeders’ set. The band played “Drivin’ on 9,” which The Breeders covered on its “Last Splash” album, and Kim Deal introduced it with a shoutout to its author, Youngstown native Dom Leone.

Walsh clearly had a great time playing with his James Gang buddies Dale Peters, bass, and Jim Fox, drums, as they played old favorites like “Walk Away” and “Midnight Man” as well as deep cuts like “The Bomber: Closet Queen, Bolero and Cast Your Fate to the Wind.”

“If you’re young and don’t know who we are, your parents really like us,” Walsh told the crowd.

Each of the main acts got about a 45-minute set. The Black Keys delivered one radio hit after another during its 10-song set with “Howlin’ for You,” “Fever,” “Gold on the Ceiling,” “Lo / Hi” and “Lonely Boy,” but they also included “Your Touch,” which Dan Auerbach said they recorded in their basement in Akron.

Nine Inch Nails pummelled the crowd with a strobes and volume, opening with “Wish,” “March of the Pigs” and “Piggy” and closing with the one-two punch of “Head Like a Hole” and “Hurt.”

Following NIN, Walsh said it was his first time seeing the group live, and he compared it to surviving the Northridge, Calif., earthquake.

With his solo band, Walsh played “In the City” and “Life’s Been Good” before several performers (and his godson, Roy Orbison III) joined him on stage for the “Rocky Mountain Way” finale.

While the acts all shared Ohio roots, in some ways that’s the only thing they shared. A younger couple behind me had never heard of The James Gang. Those old enough to remember when The James Gang was playing bars in the Mahoning Valley may have blanched at the indie drone of The Breeders or the all-out assault of Nine Inch Nails.

But the cause and the music was a uniting — not a dividing — force on Sunday. And that’s something Joe Walsh talked about before the show.

“I see now a divided country and to me, being in a position to be able to go out on tour on stage and have people who don’t agree, who maybe would have trouble hanging out, who might even get into yelling and pushing and shoving, none of that matters at a music concert,” Walsh said. “Everybody comes and everybody sits next to each other and everybody has a good time and sings all the songs. And everybody goes home better for it, happy, and I’m so blessed to be in a position to do that in this time.”

Regardless of how much money Sunday’s show raised, it was mission accomplished based on the crowd reaction.

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