Monday, September 22, 2014

Another Great Concert Double Bill Review ... From The Arcada Theatre

We were treated to another great double bill performance at The Arcada Theatre Saturday Night where Felix Cavaliere's Rascals shared the stage with The Brooklyn Bridge for a GREAT night of music from the '60's.   

As we continue to complain constantly, radio just isn't playing much of this great, classic music anymore ... so it is always a REAL treat to come out to The Arcada, where host Ron Onesti prides himself on bringing us the music we grew up with, live on stage.  Coupled with being able to read about all these great artists and great music (along with the memories of our faithful readers here in Forgotten Hits), we're both trying to do our part to help keep this great music alive.   

And alive it was Saturday Night! 
(The uncredited, crappy looking ones are mine!  lol)     

Review in a Word:  Goosebumps!

If the opportunity presents itself, go out and see these guys!  They were nothing short of sensational Saturday Night at The Arcada Theatre ... in perfect voice and in perfect sync with the audience, who were brought to their feet numerous times throughout the night, rewarding the band with well-deserved standing ovations for their outstanding performance.   

Led by lead singer Joe "Bean" Esposito (who apparently went from Brooklyn Dreams to Brooklyn Bridge during his long career), and flanked by a team of stellar background vocalists, these guys seamlessly brought back the sounds of the '50's and the '60's while still sounding contemporary enough today to feature a song that will soon be airing in a new television spot.   

(Special note to Frank B - you have GOT to check these guys out!  Their next stop is at The Suffork Theatre in Suffork Country, New York, on October 4th ... after that, it looks like an extended break in the action until they're off to Florida for a show at the Sunrise Theater in Fort Pierce, FL, in March of 2015.)  Full details on their website:  Click here: The Brooklyn Bridge Band | home )
Prior to the show, I will admit to be concerned as to what they could possibly sound like since the passing of Johnny Maestro four years ago ... but they did not disappoint.  For my money, there's never been a better live performance rendered than the ones they gave Saturday Night of The Platters' "My Prayer" or the classic "Unchained Melody" ... spot on perfection presented as crystal clear vocal magic.  And of course their signature tune "Worst That Could Happen" closed the show to rigorous, thundering applause, after which Ron Onesti joked that "we're keeping them here and changing their name to The St. Charles Bridge."   

In between they did a couple of Crests / Johnny Maestro's classics like "Step By Step" and a perfectly-executed "Sixteen Candles" (still one of my all-time favorite songs from the '50's ... and song I fell in love with the very first time I ever heard it, performed by ...believe it or not ... Sha Na Na!!!), a Dion medley (that included "Ruby Baby", "Runaround Sue" and "The Wanderer") as well as a few lesser-known Brooklyn Bridge hits like "Your Husband - My Wife" (a pretty controversial tune for its time back in 1969) along with their two-sided hit from earlier that year "Blessed Is The Rain" / "Welcome Me Love", which one of the guys described this way ...   

"Blessed Is The Rain" started climbing the charts as the follow up to "Worst That Could Happen" and was doing just fine when some deejay decided to flip the record over and started playing the other side, "Welcome Me Love".  It, too, caught on and started climbing the charts and pretty soon we had one of those very rare two-sided hits on our hands."  (Both did very well in Billboard, by the way, with "Blessed Is The Rain" scoring slightly higher at #45 than its flipside's "Welcome Me Love", which reached #48. - kk)  He went on to explain that, incredible as it may seem, BOTH sides of the record sold the EXACT same number of copies!!!  (lol - certainly made ME laugh ... along with nearly everybody else that night!)   

Esposito also sang "Heaven Knows", the Top Five Hit he had the pleasure of singing along with Donna Summer back in 1979 when he was a member of Brooklyn Dreams.
An outstanding show from start to finish ... these guys just come out on stage and get it done.  The majority of the audience may have come as Felix Cavaliere / Rascals fans ... but I guarantee you they left the theater as major fans of The Brooklyn Bridge, who I believe stole the show Saturday Night.
Rating (on a scale of 1-10):  8   

Concert In A Word:  Unexpected

One of the biggest music news stories of last year was the reunion of all four original Rascals members who got back together and put on a very extravagant multi-media concert event that they ultimately took on the road.  (We were fortunate enough to see the show when it landed here in Chicago for a week back in November ... review link below:)
Click here: Forgotten Hits: Forgotten Hits Reviews The Rascals and "Once Upon A Dream"    

We had seen an earlier version of Felix Cavaliere's Rascals a few years prior at the Lisle "Eyes To The Skies" festival and were very disappointed at the time ... Felix had assembled a very young group of backup musicians who seemed to have no feel or connection to his music ... I remember commenting at the time that the best song of the night was their version of Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love", a song they clearly enjoyed playing more than any of Felix's great Rascals offerings.

This time around, Felix has shaken things up a little bit ... he's added a far more age-appropriate group of backup musicians who also seem to be far more appreciative of his incredible song catalog and, as such, a wide array of classic Rascals songs were presented Saturday Night, including "I've Been Lonely Too Long", "A Beautiful Morning", "You Better Run", "Love Is A Beautiful Thing", "Groovin'", "A Girl Like You", "I Ain't Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore" (sung by the drummer), and their two #1 Hits, "People Got To Be Free" and "Good Lovin'" ... along with a Rascals concert staple from back in the day, their cover of Wilson Pickett's "Mustang Sally".

The presentation of this music, however, took on a rather unusual approach.  Since I didn't have the chance to ask him directly, I can only speculate on the direction Felix took with this material.  Nearly every Rascals hit was segued into a medley of two or three other hits from that era as kind of a tribute to the other great music of the day, before returning to The Rascals hit at hand.  As such we got a number of Motown snippets (like Marvin Gaye's "Hitch Hike", "My Girl" and "Just My Imagination" by The Temptations and Martha and the Vandellas' "Nowhere To Run"), "medleyed in" with everything from Lipps, Inc.'s "Funkytown" and the recent Pharrell Williams #1 Hit "Happy" (which, I have to admit, sounded GREAT and brought a HUGE smile to my face!)  In between several other great tracks were thrown into the mix including (once again) Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" ... because after all, what would a Felix Cavaliere concert be without a Led Zeppelin song!!! ... along with the Jimi Hendrix classic "Purple Haze".  

Some of it worked ... some of it didn't.  My best guess is that Felix wanted to go back out on the road again and knew that in order to do so, he would have to present as many of The Rascals' hits as he could during the course of his one hour set.  Coming off the highly publicized Rascals Reunion Tour ... and in order to keep things interesting for the audience, the band and himself, he decided to incorporate many of these other fitting tracks into his own music as sort of a musical potpourri of sounds, circa the 1960's.  It extended the length of nearly every song performed and had to be an incredible amount of work to time these songs out properly and, in effect, relearn them to accommodate this new presentation, but Felix's band was up to the challenge and, for the most part, every little nuance helped to enhance his vision.    

Truthfully, I've got to say that it was fun to watch 71 year old Felix acting so animated on stage, leaving his keyboards and bopping around the other musicians as they performed ... there was no question in my mind that he was genuinely having fun up there, playing to an enthusiastic crowd in a much smaller theater than he had recently become accustomed to.  (Near the end of the show, he made it a point to go over to Ron Onesti, shake his hand and tell him how much he enjoyed playing in his theater ... my guess is he'll be back again to the delight of both parties ... quite a contrast to the pot-shots taken by Johnny Rivers a few weeks ago at the very same theater.)  

Felix stuck to the hits and performed them well.  As mentioned earlier, some of the medley-treatment worked, some of it didn't.  His female vocalist added very little to the mix in my opinion ... even her solo spotlight song, "How Can I Be Sure", lacked the emotion that this song can usually generate ... but Felix's voice was in top form as he cranked out the hits.

Rumors continue to abound about a 50th Anniversary Reunion next year featuring all four original Rascals, hitting the road again in perhaps a scaled-down version of their "Once Upon A Dream" extravaganza.  I believe audiences would flock to see such a reunion if priced affordably without all the glitz and glamour.  (Again, I never had the chance to ask Felix to confirm or deny such plans ... but I know bandmates Gene Cornish and Dino Dannelli have been talking about such a reunion for a while now.)  I feel bad for all the fans who contributed beau coup bucks through a Kickstarter campaign to help orchestrate the big New York comeback in late 2012, only to have it fall apart so quickly before many of them even had a chance to see and enjoy the fruit of their investment.  Perhaps without the involvement of Steven Van Zandt, the original Rascals can get together again for the pure joy and love of the music ... and the delight of the fans ... the next time around ... 'cause THAT would be quite a show to see.  (kk)
Rating:  (on a scale of 1-10):  6