Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Little Anthony and the Imperials

In a word:  


Backed by an exceptional nine piece band (that included a four-piece brass section), plus three Imperials as back-up singers (including original member Earnest Wright), Little Anthony Gourdine (at 74 years of age) absolutely killed it Saturday Night at The Arcada Theatre. 

Incredibly, his voice still sounds EXACTLY the same ... he still hits and holds EVERY note ... and he completely won us over from the moment he took the stage.   

The show opens with a clip of the band from 1965 on The Ed Sullivan Show singing their monster Top Ten Hit "Hurt So Bad".  This then dissolves into a full-blown overture by the band, featuring bits and pieces of all of their best-known hits.  When that wraps up, we hear a single piano note, played repeatedly as Anthony takes the stage all by himself ... to sing "All By Myself", the #1 Eric Carmen Hit from 1976 ... an absolute show-stopper right off the bat.  The Imperials join him for the big-build ending, taken more from the Celine Dion songbook than the Eric Carmen original ... but their voices soar in perfect (and quite dramatic) harmony for the big finish.  People, we've got a SHOW!!!  

Next up, "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" ... these don't sound like any late-'50's / early-'60's Imperials at all ... it's a totally contemporary arrangement of a Motown classic. (As it turns out, one of the current Imperials used to sing back up for Marvin Gaye back in the day.)   

And then, their very own first hit ... "Tears On My Pillow" (#4, 1958), executed PERFECTLY to complete crowd approval.  (A standing ovation on the third song!  These guys were smokin' ... and the audience loved them!)  

It really is incredible how much ... in 2014 ... Little Anthony sounds like Little Anthony!!!  Later in the evening, he will tell the story of how when the record promoter first brought their single to Alan Freed and asked him to play it on the air, Freed's reaction was "Boy, that girl can really sing!"  (Original pressings listed the artist as simply "The Imperials".)  The promoter immediately corrected him ... "Girl?!?!?  That ain't no girl ... that's ANTHONY!!!" to which Freed replied, "Wow!  Well he must be little!" ... and he's been LITTLE Anthony ever since!  (Later in the set he would pay tribute to another famous "Little" ... as in Richard, with a rip-roaring rocker, the likes of which you've never heard Little Anthony and the Imperials lay down on record.)

Other hits and funk tunes followed ... including a nice reading of Prince's "Kiss" (which at one point evolved into "U Can't Touch This") along with the expected Little Anthony and the Imperials classics like "I'm On The Outside Looking In" and "Take Me Back".  Before playing their 1960 Top 20 Hit "Shimmy Shimmy Ko-Ko Bop" Anthony took a moment to level with the audience:  "I've got to tell you that I don't like this song ... I've NEVER really liked this song ... but it was a hit ... and it sold over a million copies ... so we have to play it ... so we're going to play it ... but I want you to know that since I don't like it, I'm going to do the best that I can."  (Little Anthony's speaking voice is very reminiscent of Flip Wilson's ... and his comic timing is impeccable.  You can tell he's been doing this for a long, long time ... everything just flows ... yet from the audience's perspective, it all still feels natural and real, the ultimate testament to an artist with a career that has lasted this long.  The crowd LOVED him!)

In fact, all of the between-song patter was entertaining. (I don't want to give too much away, should you have the chance to see this Rock And Roll Hall Of Famer yourself ... don't pass us an opportunity ... DO IT!!!  You will NOT be disappointed.  Upcoming dates include June 27th and June 28th at the Niagra Fallsview Casino Resort in Niagrara Falls, Ontario, Canada ... and July 18th at The Wolf Den in Uncasville, CT.)  It's a class act from start to finish ... precision timing, clearly well-rehearsed ... but a real treat to watch.  Every single one of them genuinely looked like they were having fun up there.   

Naturally, he saved two of his biggest hits for the end ... "Hurt So Bad" and "Goin' Out Of My Head" BOTH received well-deserved standing ovations.  After "Goin' Out Of My Head", Anthony said "I don't want to sing any more sad songs ... I've been singing sad songs now for 56 years ... no more sad songs" at which point the band launched into a killer funk finale.  It was nothing short of incredible to watch these guys still handle all the dance moves.  Good show!

Anthony mentioned that he is writing a book, looking back over their entire career.  I, for one, can't wait to read it.  A great show ... and well worth seeing.  With at least half-a-dozen well-deserved standing ovations spread throughout the evening, there is no question that the audience felt satisfied and entertained.  Highly recommended if you get the chance to see it.


Opening for Little Anthony and the Imperials was Darrian Ford and the Cookebook, who put together an AMAZING tribute to the music of Sam Cooke.  Ron Onesti just happened to catch his sold-out act the week before at The City Winery and invited him to kick off the show this weekend at The Arcada.  Once again, the fans LOVED him ... and he did spot-on renditions of many of Sam's biggest and best-known hits.  Onesti has already invited him back for a return engagement on August 31st ... so keep your eyes open for that one. (kk)

 kk and the imperials ... that's some guy named "anthony" to my left
(backstage at the Arcada Theatre ... photo by Luciano J. Bilotti)