Monday, August 26, 2013

Happy Together, 2013

We were fortunate enough to attend this year's Happy Together Concert at The Paramount Theatre in Aurora, IL, Friday Night ... ALWAYS a guaranteed, jam-packed evening of great music, fun and merriment ... housed in beautifully renovated surroundings.  (Howard Kaylan even commented from the stage about how much they LOVE coming back to The Paramount, as it's one of the nicest theaters they play on this tour every year ... he then reiterated those comments to me backstage after the show ... they love the look, the sound, the feel ... just the whole atmosphere of performing there.)   

And they played to a full house Friday Night. In fact, The Happy Together Tour has been playing to sold out, full houses all across the country this year.  The guys have expanded the tour to include 60 dates this time around so that more fans can come out and see them and they are turning out in droves ... TRUE '60's music lovers, most of whom grew up listening to this music ... and not only have these fans stayed loyal to these artists, but a second and third generation of '60's music fans are now coming along for the joy ride as well.   

Every year, The Turtles assemble four other artists to come out and perform their hits ... they mix it up each year ... this one drops out, this one gets added, always careful to present a different show each time you see them.  (In fact, plans for Happy Together 2014 are already in the works!)  Then they put these artists center stage in front of a stellar back-up band (who have now been with them for seven years) and create a night of non-stop fun and music ... and this year was no exception.  (Kudos to these musicians ... led by musical director Godfrey Townsend [guitar and keyboards],Steve Murphy [drums], Manny Focarazzo [keyboards] and John Montagna [bass guitar], these guys have these songs down ... and, to quote Howard Kaylan, "they all sing like angels.")   

Leading off the bill Friday Night was Gary Lewis, who first performed on The Happy Together Tour back in the 1980's.  We got to know Gary a little bit better this year as he participated with us in some of the feature articles we did on The Playboys.  Of all the artists performing there Friday Night, I would have to say that Gary seemed to MOST appreciate the fact that there is still an audience for this music.  I sense that (unlike many other artists of the day who have, at one time or another, denounced the music they made back then for one reason or another), Gary TRULY believes that these were GREAT songs and that he was fortunate enough to have been the one to record them.  He almost seems bewildered by his success!   

But the statistics don't lie ... between 1965 and 1968, Gary Lewis and the Playboys scored 14 Top 40 Hits, including NINE that made it all the way into The Top Ten.  And he performed a good chunk of them Friday Night ... everything from Forgotten Hits like "Green Grass" and "My Heart's Symphony" to fan favorites like "Everybody Loves A Clown", "Save Your Heart For Me", "Count Me" and "Sure Gonna Miss Her" to absolute smashes like "She's Just My Style" and his #1, out-of-the-box hit "This Diamond Ring", still one of my all-time favorite songs from the '60's.   

He told some entertaining stories between songs including one about a young 20 year old female reporter who interviewed him recently and then, during the course of the interview, commented on how much she loved his music ... and loved his dad, too ... telling Gary that "Great Balls Of Fire" was one of her favorite songs!  (Man, how many times have we been down THAT road?!?!?)   

Next up ... the always-entertaining Mark Lindsay.  Mark mentioned on stage how he got to go through the 60's twice ... first as an artist ... and then again in the age department (something WE'RE now faced with doing starting tomorrow!!! I still can't believe it!)  He also commented on how he was "fortunate to have sung the lead vocal on EVERY single hit that Paul Revere and the Raiders ever had" ... and then gave us a good, solid sampling ... "Steppin' Out", "Just Like Me", "Hungry", "Kicks", "Good Thing" as well as The Raiders' only official #1 Hit (how is THAT possible?!?!?) "Indian Reservation", which got the whole crowd out of their seats.   

Lindsay was with The Happy Together Tour a couple of years ago and, in my mind, stole the show.  Back then his set seemed far too short ... I get the whole "leave 'em wanting more" concept but it just seemed like there was SO much more he could have done.  Not the case this year ... Mark (who can still kick his leg up INCREDIBLY high in the air for a 71 year old man, a fact he demonstrated several times during the show!) gave us a good, solid set, talked about his brand new CD and also told a few entertaining stories about rock and roll life back in the day.  

For me, he also provided one of the two concert highlights of the evening ... a spot-on rendition of his Top Ten Solo Hit "Arizona".  I swear there were moments in that performance where you couldn't tell if you were listening to Mark singing in 2013 or 1970 ... it was that good.   

Gary Puckett entertained us next, back for his second straight Happy Together Tour appearance.  Now this column has pointed out before that NOBODY out there can over-sing a song the way that Gary Puckett can ... and that on some occasions it's been almost painful to hear him destroy the melodies of some songs that we hold so near-and-dear to our hearts.  Gary seemed a little more restrained this time around (although he still had his moments ... my all-time favorite Union Gap song has always been "This Girl Is A Woman Now" and it was almost unrecognizable due to the extended phrasing executed Friday Night), but there's no denying the booming power this man still possesses in his voice.  (We were "fortunate" enough to have a guy sitting behind us who I quickly dubbed "Gary Jr" who seemed to feel the need to sing ... VERY loudly I might add ... along with every single one of Gary's hits.  As if that  wasn't painful and distracting enough, he sang the songs at the pacing of the hit records, which only amplified the fact even more so that Gary doesn't "stick to the charts" when performing his hits, circa 2013.  It was like listening to out-of-sync, very badly rechanneled stereo!)   

Gary had the crowd up on their feet when he saluted all of the military vets in the audience and then sang a special song (the only non-hit performed the entire evening) that he dedicated to them.  Puckett even has a spot on his website (Click here: The Official Gary Puckett Union Gap Website) that offers support and benefits for our veterans who, Gary very proudly ... and rightfully ... points out have insured OUR freedom for SO many years.  If somewhat calculated, it certainly made for a poignant moment during the concert ... and I believe that he is a sincere supporter.  The crowd's reaction provided a very emotional experience.   

After a short break, it was time for newcomer Chuck Negron to take the stage.  THIS was the guy we wanted to see this year ... especially having just seen Cory and Danny a few weeks ago in Elk Grove Village.  I had not seen Chuck since the Three Dog Night tours of the '70's ... a couple of times he came through town performing with Blood, Sweat and Tears but we were unable to attend ... so I was really looking forward to seeing what he was going to do.   

The answer was simple ... the hits, baby, the hits ... and Three Dog Night had a TON of them ... 21 straight Top 40 Hits in fact, including SEVEN #1 Records ... and he performed most of those Friday Night ... "One", "Shambala", "Mama Told Me Not To Come" and, of course, his signature song, "Joy To The World".  He also did "Celebrate" and a kick-ass version of "Eli's Coming" that Frannie ranked as HER musical highlight moment of the evening.   

What he DIDN'T do were the songs that his voice is most associated with ... and that really surprised me.  Chuck-centric hits like "Easy To Be Hard", "An Old Fashioned Love Song" and "Pieces Of April" were conspicuously absent from the set list.  THESE are the songs that defined Chuck's role in the group ... (I would have killed to hear him sing "Sunrise" one more time, too!) ... so I was a bit surprised and disappointed that he didn't steer things a bit more into his own wheelhouse.  (Maybe the restraints of an ensemble performance like this had something to do with it ... I'm sure he pushes the envelope a bit farther during his solo shows.)   

When we saw the Two-Dog version of Three Dog Night a few weeks ago, I commented that they put on a very solid show ... but that on a couple of occasions the vocals were lacking where Chuck really took center-stage and filled things in.  (You'll find that review here:  Click here: Forgotten Hits: Three Dog Night)   As such it was odd to hear Chuck perform hits like "Shambala" and "Mama Told Me Not To Come" as these are songs that he had very little to do with vocally.  That being said, he did perform excellent versions of both hits.   

Chuck and I had the chance to visit a little bit after the show (see picture below) and I've got to tell you that he looks GREAT!  He, too, is now 71 years old, but you would NEVER know it to look at him.  Chuck is in the process of putting together a brand new CD (we told you last week about hitting his target and raising the funds through his Kickstarter campaign) which will include three previously unreleased Three Dog Night tracks as well as a bunch of new material ... so we're all really looking forward to that.   

And lastly, closing up the show (Howard Kaylan made it clear to me that they are NOT the headliners ... simply the ring-leaders and masters of ceremony who bring us the event ... and that if there WAS a headliner this time around, it had to be Chuck because this was his first time on the tour) were The Turtles.   

These guys always put on an entertaining and energetic show and this one was no exception.  Coming out to "Gangnam Style", followed by their unison comment "Look what they've done to our music, man!!!", the fun never stopped.  Again we were treated to a barrage of hits ... kicking off with "She'd Rather Be With Me", "You Baby" and a "No-No-No" sing-along to "It Ain't Me, Babe", The Turtles came at us with a flurry, but still delivered on Mark Volman's promise to "get you home in time to take your medications".  (lol)  Volman looked great, by the way, sporting an almost Frank Zappa-ish goatee ... OMG, can you imagine having THIS guy as your college professor?!?!?  Could school have EVER been more fun than this?!?!?

I've seen these guys close to twenty times now and every show's been a winner.  And I will state for the record that, without question, even after twenty shows, this was BY FAR the best I have EVER heard them perform one of my personal favorites, "You Showed Me".  It, along with the previously mentioned "Arizona" by Mark Lindsay were, for me, the pinnacle concert moments.  The Turtles also did their Top Five Hit "Elenore" and then, of course, their signature tune ... and the song that has kept this whole thing going for nearly 50 years ... "Happy Together".   

Once again, rather than an encore, they brought out each performing artist to reprise a snippet of one of their hits before all joining in together to sing the "bomp-bomp-bomp"'s of "Happy Together" one last time.   

All in all, an incredibly fun night of entertainment ... and WELL worth the price of admission to see.  A lot of the shows they did this year were festivals and state fairs so we felt fortunate to see the show in such a beautiful, "controlled" environment.  The tour is winding down and there are just a few dates left ... NINE to be exact, counting tonight's show in Mitchell, SD ... so if The Happy Together Tour is headed out your way and you don't have tickets yet, do yourself a favor and order them now ... you will NOT be disappointed.   

Tonight - Sunday, August 25th - The Corn Palace - Mitchell, SD  
Tomorrow Night, Monday, August 26th - The Minnesota State Fair - St. Paul, MN
Tuesday, August 27th (my 60th birthday ... I know, I know ... but I just CAN'T BELIEVE IT!!!!!) - The Sanford Center - Bemidji, MN
Wednesday, August 28th - The McPhillips Station Casino - Winnipeg, MB
Friday, August 30th - The Little River Casino Resort - Manistee, MI
Saturday, August 31st - The Woodstock Fair - South Woodstock, CT
Sunday, September 1st - The New York State Fair - Syracuse, NY
Saturday, October 5th - The All Seasons Arena - Minot, ND
Friday, October 18th - The Andy Williams Moon River Theatre - Branson, MO

Chuck Negron and yours truly, backstage after the show
after an incredible night of musical entertainment