Air Supply still enjoying a solid breath of success after nearly 50 years

He’s heard the critics for nearly half a century imply that his band’s lighter rock of the 1980s is perhaps lighter weight. But, if that’s the case, h0w do you explain love song leaders such as Air Supply playing a string of eight countries in the next six months alone, especially at 15,000-seat arenas outside the United States?

“I usually don’t like to mention this about the sheer numbers, but we’ve probably played before as many people just in the past five years as we ever have (in that time span),” said 73-year-old lead singer Russell Hitchcock, speaking by phone from his home outside Los Angeles.

The six-member band, with Hitchcock’s original sidekick Graham Russell still on guitar — and still penning songs — will perform an approximately 13-song, hit-laden set at 8 p.m. Friday at Brown County Music Center in Nashville for those they affectionately call Airheads. And while the group’s key duo acknowledge some slight concert tweaks, they figure fans want them to be faithful to such well-known tunes as “Lost in Love,” “All Out of Love,” “Making Love Out of Nothing At All,” “Sweet Dreams,” “Even the Nights Are Better,” and “Every Woman in the World,” among others.

When Hitchcock has attended concerts by Paul McCartney (four times) and The Eagles (four times), he himself has wanted to hear the classic songs just as he remembers them in order to musically muse over the years.

“We definitely play what people want to hear,” he said. “Unfortunately, I’ve been to so many shows where I couldn’t always quite tell what song an artist was playing.”

For those who are wondering, Hitchcock’s tenor voice and his harmonies with Russell still sound as sweet in online clips as they did more than 30 years ago on recordings. Maybe the only complaint for some very proper pop fans about shows in the past year is that the group sometimes sounds surprisingly like harder-edged rock when live and in person today, which can nearly overshadow such precise vocals.

“Well, it is very loud,” Hitchcock said of the backing band that he gushes over.

But the lyrical heartbeat is still there, irrefutable evidence that this group is, as Time magazine once called it, “the most romantic band in the world.” Recent reviews, including those for sold-out shows in such major markets as San Francisco and Washingt0on, D.C., have lauded the group as an adult contemporary ensemble for the still starry-eyed and smitten lovers.

Yet, challenges remain.

Even after successes such as he and Russell being inducted into the Australian Recording Industry Association’s Hall of Fame in 2013 and performing before a huge crowd of 175,000 at a concert in Cuba in 2005, Hitchcock still battles stage fright before every performance. He sometimes fought it with just a bit of merlot beforehand in the past. Now, he reminds himself that it will pass.

“I’m usually OK about three songs in,” he said.

He’s laid back about being recognized a couple times per week at airports and elsewhere, and chuckles about once frequently being mistaken for Elton John, thanks to similar specs and a similar haircut a few years ago. And there have been other erroneous sightings. A clueless teen girl gasped a while back when he was stepping from an elevator, and he noticed his round glasses.

“Are you John Lennon?” she asked.

The Australia native first joined forces with the British Russell in 1975 after meeting as castmates of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” which marked the first time he ever sang publicly. The two have worked together regularly ever since while never ceasing touring. Hitchcock never wants to write, and Russell said he has no desire to be lead vocalist. Hence, the effortless blending for 47 years.

Hitchcock had to think a while when asked about their biggest disagreement.

“Probably about where to eat,” Hitchcock said with a laugh. “Because he’s vegetarian.”

About the concert

Who: Pop-rock band Air Supply.

When: 8 p.m. Friday.

Where: Brown County Music Center, 200 Maple Leaf Drive in Nashville.