Friday, July 3, 2015

Happy Together, 2015

Saw the first Happy Together tour in 1984. Still have the program.  
Incredible to think that they've been doing this (and quite successfully, I might add!) for nearly thirty years now. (They did take some time off in between ... but, incredibly, some of the artists that toured with The Turtles back in the '80's are STILL making appearances with the band today within the context of this all-star show!)  kk   

With all the photos, videos and announcements I have recently received about this tour, I was surprised to realize that it has really just begun. It seems as though it has been touring a long time, but summer started just seven days ago. So hang on people! You have plenty of time to get to a concert far from you. Yes, I believe in musical road trips. If, however, you still work to pay your bills, (as do I) go to the closest venue. I traveled an hour and a half away, which only took me two hours and 45 minutes this weekend. Record time! (I really like using that phrase. Record Time! It is so vintage.) Westbury Music Fair has such a great history of presenting memorable performances that no matter what the current correct name is ... it is still The Music Fair to me.
I want to flip things around and start with the back-up band. Godfrey Townsend is the god guitarist and sometime keys player, Greg Smith is on bass (whenever there is not a lead singer playing bass), Manny Focarazzo plays two keyboards, and Steve Murphy is in the drum chamber. Yes, that would be the plexiglass guardall shield. Wait a minute. That prevents tooth decay. Anyway, Steve will be mentioned throughout this review as he is a hoot, and I don't want him to believe that sitting down behind a huge drum set makes him immune to observation.
While I am waiting for the usher to seat me (always a baffle ... do I wait for him to come back? Do I seat myself?) I hear a foursome ask another usher if Shannon is here. They have my attention. Is Shannon a first or last name? The usher replies, “No. Not yet.” and I hear the statement, “I know he's coming.” HE ... SHANNON ... lives and works in this area, so I am going to guess Scott Shannon. It would make perfect sense he would be here, but why is he expected to be here? And the answer is? They asked him to emcee the opening, although since this show travels with a pre-recorded emcee (NOT prerecorded performances) this is not easy. Thus after he introduces the concert and reveals his musical background, training, and love for the music he just gets to spend time backstage with the performers. ROUGH LIFE SS!! That alone was worth you showing up, I'm sure.
I mentioned that Greg Smith is not always on bass. This is the case when the first act up is THE BUCKINGHAMS! Paul McCartney has commented that it is not easy singing vocals and playing bass. Especially lead vocals. We have three groups who have singer / bass players tonight. This is just an example of the musical caliber presented. Carl Giammarese and Nick Fortuna are original founding members of The Bucks. I love their music. I also love the stories that enhance the experience and connect me to a timeline of events. FIVE hits songs follow: 'Don't You Care', 'Mercy', 'Hey Baby (They're Playing Our Song)', 'Susan', and 'Kind of a Drag'. It IS kind of a drag when they have to leave, but with each act I am torn with wanting more and wanting to see the next one. Susan Cowsill comes out just before 'Susan' is sung to correct Nick's story about her. Nick said she had asked them if the song 'Susan' had been written for her. She wanted it made clear that she was nine years old when she asked. It wasn't as if she had asked yesterday. Although that was fun, the BEST time was watching Carl shake hands with the audience and melt the women. Yes, still melting women, and singing on his knees to them. It is beautiful. He did get caught, literally, when the woman in front of me pulled him down into the empty seat next to her ... and was not willing to let him go. Just as I thought I would need to whisper, “Please let go of my husband” (that usually startles them enough that they let go), she did release him so he could return to the stage. Wonder if the other side of the “round” could see what happened? Oh, drummer Steve has a large bag of drumsticks in his cubicle ... overkill?
THE COWSILLS! I have never before seen them in concert. I'm floored! Heck, there are only three of them (kudos to the Townsend Band for being the rest of the family) and they rock those songs and stir the memories. 'The Rain, the Park & Other Things', 'We Can Fly'. 'Indian Lake', 'Love American Style', and 'HAIR'. What makes 'Hair' the type of song that makes you want to jump up and dance? Ok, for me, I had dance choreography that took over my mind and brought me back to competitions and touring schools ... a few years ago. (cough, cough) BUT look at this crowd! Not only are they showing an itch to get up and fly (oops another song ... later) but some of them are actually up and dancing at their seats. The woman sitting next to me said this was the one song she came to hear The Cowsills perform. What a rush! Maybe because they are weighted down by guitars, Susan and Bob are calm visions at the mics while brother Paul is zooming around the stage, jumping in the air, directing the band wildly and still singing into the mic on key, and at the correct moments. If Paul Revere had not had the Cadillac keyboard, he would have been Paul Cowsill. Did you know that the song 'We Can Fly' was first done by Lawrence Welk? The Cowsills brought up the fact that it was not an ego boost going into school saying, “Yep, uhuh. Just recorded a Lawrence Welk song.” Way to popularity. Hmmmm, Steve the drummer put on headphones ... and he plays barefoot.
The first act ends with THE GRASS ROOTS! Mark Dawson plays bass and Dusty Hanvey plays lead for this set. Mark, you are looking much sleeker and trimmed down this year. And sounding great. A fan club leader for Frankie Valli asked me questions about the “lead singer” of The Grass Roots. They had seen him years ago and he had such a great personna on and off stage. BTW their favorite set in the first act was The Grass Roots! I felt tears coming down my cheek, and they became worried that they had upset me. It's ok. I have only wonderful memories of Rob Grill and pulled myself together to relate his story and how we will still be able to enjoy the songs we love from his group. Mark and Dusty, you did a stellar job representing the group. Someone else told me they thought Mark was better this year than last. He certainly was confident and self-assured. I loved it, thank you. As I was writing down your set list, I automatically wrote down 'Temptation Eyes'. I have no clue why. It was not the first song ... it was actually the 5th. They started singing 'Wait a Million Years', and I wrote down 'Temptation Eyes'. And we had 'Sooner or Later', a total a capella rendering of all five on stage singing 'Mother Earth' which segued into 'Live For Today'. Breath-taking. The 6th, and last song, has to be 'Midnight Confesssions'. You know ... this first act is a complete show itself.
The band is back and the second act begins. Steve discarded the earphones shortly after I noticed them, but during 'Midnight Confessions', I annotated the reason for so many drumsticks. He had a pile of frazzled and frayed sticks sitting next to him that died a heroes death while in the service of their decade. And now ... THE ASSOCIATION! Jim Yester, Jules Alexander, and Del Ramos are the three appearing members on the tour. The introduction says that the group started out as eleven members, and is now the three you see before you. (plus the Townsend Band) If you wish to know the break-down of who, why, what and where, go to the book WHERE HAVE ALL THE POP STARS GONE? Volume 1 by Marti Smiley Childs and Jeff March. I do hear a few clunkers, but whether it is the sound system, which at times does almost drown out Carl Giammarese and Mark Lindsay, or some missed harmonies from The Assoication, I still truly enjoy my first concert viewing of them. Of course we need to get the audience going with 'Windy'. This is followed by 'Never My Love', (which Lou Christie uses as an encore frequently.) 'Everything That Touches You', 'Cherish', and Miss Controversial, 'Along Comes Mary'. It's about what? It says what? Until the dissection of the lyrics in the 80's, I never even wondered what the words meant on a subliminal level. I sang and danced along naively. Most of the songs from The Association are considered songs of love, or lost love. You played the 45 that fit your status at the moment. I also remember an 8-track in a station wagon full of teenagers that was playing the greatest hits while we argued over who had to be dropped off home first and miss the rest of the tape. Last night I also realized something I never picked up on before. I was watching Del Ramos singing 'Cherish' and saw him say the word 'Perish', at the beginning of the line: is the word when I realize that I am NOT going to be the one ... etc. Well, that makes a lot more sense! I always wondered why anyone would Cherish that moment. Jules says it is a very difficult song to sing. I am hoping I was focused more on that difficult melody. I just never took the time to really look into nor question that part of the song. Hmmmm, I just made myself vulnerable to criticism here. This is an audience that appreciates these people and these songs. There is always someone who wants to loudly exude their ignorance, but those two people here are just overshadowed by the love being shown.
Introducing MR. MARK LINDSAY! I am sitting next to one of Mark's longest-term fans. She has already told me about her extreme crush on him from the Raiders days, and has been regaling me with questions about what he looks like, where he lives, what he likes to do when not touring, etc. “I probably wouldn't know him now, if I ran into him.” Oh I think she would. I want you to experience Mark's set through her eyes, as I did. So everything in brackets is a quote I heard. I warn her that I do not want any rushing of the stage or throwing herself at his feet as I have come to hear him sing. She says, “With MY arthritis?” No wonder our 60's faves love us now. We are disabled and non-threatening. [LOOK! THERE HE IS!] And now we are 'Where the Action Is'. No, really. Mark starts out by singing 'Where the Action Is'. He talks about other concerts and being 'Hungry' to work them. [YES! OH MY GOD!] Everybody sings along with 'Arizona'. At least the chorus, as many in the audience never learned the verses. [I CAN'T BELIEVE THIS! IT'S HIM!] Which is just such a 'Good Thing Girl'. Now Mark is a bit resentful that this next song was knocked out of “most played single” by some kid named Michael Jackson singing about a Billy Jean. After a crude moon-walk attempt, he apologizes to Michael, allowing him the rights to his hit and also to the fact that he was a great dancer. [LOOK AT HIS SHOES!] “It's alright little buddy. I never could dance.” I have given you plenty of time to figure out that 'Indian Reservation' is the song to which Mark has referred. I LOVE it! We do amazingly well on the clapping in time part. And maybe someday men will learn ... a lot of things we really need to know. This is one of my favorite segues coming up, using lengthy keyboard chords that roll into the quick beat of 'Kicks'. [THIS IS THE BEST! I CAN'T BELIEVE IT!] That over-the-top, over-the-head Lindsay leg kick throws us into sing-along, clap-along, dance-along mode. THIS song in concert is ever so much more than a recording. Awwww ... and we're done. [THAT WAS INCREDIBLE! I AM SO GLAD I CAME! HE LOOKS GOOD! OH WOW!]
Music and Mayhem. Comedy and Mayhem. Mayhem and Mayhem. Ah yes, it can only be THE TURTLES. Did reading Howard Kaylan's book change the way I view their performance? Nah! The music stands alone and stands up over time. It did however, put things on a time-line and I relate to this as each song is performed. I know what was going on during the writing, planning and recording of each and the personal trials and tribulations. Howard's book is not one I will ever read in my elementary classrooms or choose to read aloud at a book club. I would be blushing head to toe. It is not a bedtime fairytale, but to get a handle on the time of The Turtles, read it. Ok, while I was thinking about all this in Westbury, Olaf appeared on stage and started singing that Turtles number 'Let It Go'! Say what? Olaf aka Mark Volman is using Elsa's voice to start this segment off. This is not 'Gagnum Style'. Go see the show to figure it out, but eventually Howard is wearing a blonde Elsa wig and we hear that 'She'd Rather Be With Me'. I understand at least one show featured chicken costumes? Wait, Steve Murphy is now wearing a baseball cap in reverse position. Steve is an obvious driving factor at this performance with the rotating stage bringing him into view front to back again and again. No one can hide at The Music Fair. Don't worry! I didn't miss a beat (har-har) of the music and am now into
'You Baby'. I did miss the disrobing of Olaf and Elsa though, probably they were opposite me. Now there is only Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan running around the circle of the stage and singing, 'It Ain't Me Babe'. 'Elenore' and 'Happy Together' finish the set, and if I have typed this well, you feel as if you were just hit by a tornado and are a little winded. That is the feel! Six songs and comedy rolled out as a cloud-burst of fun. It seemed so fast. Howard Kaylan's words that this was so much fun, “I think we should do it all over again.” agrees with the audience. No matter how old we are, we COULD do our part again, Howard. But ... we'll give you a break and settle for a knock-out finale.
Musically, The Happy Together Tour finale always needs work. But it is not meant to be all the groups in a rehearsed production. It is meant to sound like my classroom when I ask them to sing their favorite songs from the 60's. Love and enthusiasm are all that is required. BRING BACK THE BUCKINGHAMS, THE COWSILLS, THE GRASS ROOTS, THE ASSOCIATION, MARK LINDSAY, and THE TURTLES.
My first summer concert this year. Summer: the season of promise.
Shelley J. Sweet-Tufano
I don't know the names of the Belmont students, but I know everyone else ... found ya'll ... right Professor Volman?
For the past few years Professor Flo (as I like to call him!) has taken some of his Belmont University students with him on the road to help out with The Happy Together Tour ... and experience first hand all that goes into putting on a show of this magnitude.  It's a great learning experience for these kids ... and helps keep things moving for all the artists as well.  GREAT group shot this year!  (kk)
Here's another very cool report from Examiner columnist Jim Bessman ... seems EVERYBODY is loving the line-up this year ... and The Cowsills seem to be winning over brand new fans on a daily basis!  What a GREAT addition to the show!