Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Top 20 Shows of 2017

We see a LOT of shows ... well over 40 this past year alone ... so narrowing them down to pick the ten best is a difficult task.  (So difficult, in fact, that this year we have once again listed our Top 20 Shows instead!)

We'll be counting down our Top 20 Favorites over the course of the rest of this week ... so please check back daily to see where some of your favorites finished on the list.

I will say this ...

A couple of shows that we were really looking forward to seeing (based on previous performances) were a bit of a let down this time around as the acts didn't measure up to the standard they had set for themselves the last time we saw them.

Others seem to pour everything they've got into every performance, which makes for a very special experience for the audience ... we've given especially high marks to these artists this year.

And, we've got a few "newcomers" on the list as well ... acts we've never seen before who knocked us out right out of the box.

Rather than list our biggest disappointments, let's focus instead on the positive as we count down


#20 - Rick Saucedo  (May / The Chateau in Normal, IL)

Say what?  Rick Saucedo?  The Elvis Guy???

Yes … we caught Rick at a special performance during an Oldies Weekend down in Normal, IL, and, incredibly, with just Rick on stage singing to pre-recorded, piped-in  background music, he put on an incredible show of Elvis classics.  (I think what impressed me most was the way he did his first set as "Vegas Elvis", dressed in the white jump suit with the scarves and doing the "big band" versions of his hits … but then came back in Set Two as 1960's / Movie Star Elvis … and was able to modify his voice and vocal arrangements to sound just like the much younger Elvis of the day.

Rick's been around doing the Elvis schtick for a LONG time now … over 40 years! … but he 's still got the magic to captivate his audience.  (Word of mouth has always been good ... and I watched him win over quite a few new fans who had never seen his show before that night ... but had heard about his incredible career.)

From my original review:

Rick Saucedo has now been doing Elvis longer than ELVIS did Elvis!!!  

2017 marks his 45th year as one of the premier Elvis impersonators ... he's traveled the world, played Elvis on Broadway and entertained fans here in Chicago for four and a half decades ... and he still plays the part to perfection ... the minute you hear his booming, powerful voice, you are completely drawn in. Even after all these years, he still makes for a very believable Elvis.  (It's that incredible voice ... the moment he opens his mouth, you are transported back in time ... it's actually a bit eerie in a way ... he sounds that much like him.  But all these years of experience have allowed him to prepare and present it as perfection.  It's automatic now ... he opens his mouth and this is what you hear ... Elvis comes out and it sounds like the real deal.)

In reality, the show was pretty much Elvis karaoke ... there was no band ... just a laptop loaded with instrumental tracks and two female assistants ... one to run the board, stopping and starting each track precisely on cue for each new song ... and one to hand him bottled water and towels to mop up along the way. 

It has to be kinda weird to be up there on the stage all by yourself with no support band ... but I think Rick has been doing this for SO long that he's comfortable now in any setting, even if it means just movin' and groovin' all by his lonesome.  It's just what he does ... and all he's EVER done ... so playing Elvis has become more of an instinct.  (That being said, he still seems to truly enjoy it ... it's all he's ever known ... but he's a master of his craft and at the top of his field ... he has earned the right to be "The King" ... and doesn't appear to have lost a step along the way.) 

I was completely impressed by his voice ... in fact, it seems stronger and more powerful than ever ... yet he can still bring it down for a tender moment or two, rendering a much "younger Elvis" sound in the process, while he performed Elvis' hits of the '60's and assorted movie tracks. 

All-in-all, a very entertaining night ... but now I want to see him with a real band ... or better yet, a rock group with a small orchestra section.  

You can catch Rick all over the Chicagoland area in the months to come ... just visit his webpage for all the latest details:

19 - A Salute to the '60's - The Grass Roots / The Buckinghams / Herman's Hermits (starring Peter Noone)  (Star Plaza / January)

This was a fun show as all three of these artists produced some of the best feel-good music of the ‘60’s (or any other decade for that matter!)  Helping to make this night extra special, each artist also donated a pair of tickets so we could take a few of our Forgotten Hits Readers with us to the show … so it was a really fun night.  (The show we saw in January was the 26th Anniversary Show of these same three artists performing at Star Plaza in Merrillville, Indiana.  Sadly, this venue closed their doors for good last month after providing decades of some of the biggest shows and artists to hit our area.)

We got to visit backstage with Mark Dawson of The Grass Roots and Carl Giammarese of The Buckinghams before the show and both were looking forward to taking the stage.  (Incredibly, that same night, before any of the artists went out to perform, they all signed contracts to come back again in January of 2018 and 2019, making it TWENTY EIGHT consecutive years … as a result of these recent changes, these shows have since been moved to another venue.)

From my original review:

We saw Herman's Hermits (starring Peter Noone), The Buckinghams and The Grass Roots at Star Plaza in Merrillville, Indiana, on Saturday Night (the 21st) and, as expected, ALL of these artists put on an incredible show.  (They are seasoned veterans, after all ... and the music just doesn't get much better than this ... whether it be the '60's or fifty years later.)

The Grass Roots kicked things off with a great set of music that included the hits "Sooner Or Later," "Temptation Eyes," "Midnight Confessions," "Heaven Knows," "Let's Live For Today" and "Two Divided By Love" ... plus more, including "Don't Pull Your Love Out," the Hamilton, Joe Frank and Reynolds hit that The Grass Roots turned down back in 1971.  (A shame ... as the song went right to #1 for the newly formed singing trio with the law firm name.)

After a brief intermission, The Buckinghams came out and they played all their big hits from the '60's ... as well as a medley of hits by recent Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Inductees Chicago, who (back in 1968) they recommended to their manager at the time, Jim Guercio, as being worthy of checking out ... and the rest, as they say, is history.  They sounded great with The Buckinghams horns in full force.  The big surprise of their set was their stripped down version of The Beatles' classic "This Boy," featuring the beautiful harmonies of Carl Giammarese, Nick Fortuna and guitarist Dave Zane, who just may have turned in the best vocal performance of the evening on this one.

And then, after another short break, the ALWAYS entertaining Peter Noone and Herman's Hermits took the stage.  He turned in yet another brilliant performance of numerous Hermits hits from the '60's as well as various other hits from The British Invasion like "Do Wah Diddy Diddy" (a song that Peter said makes Herman's Hermits songs sound far more intelligent!), "Ferry 'Cross The Mersey", "Love Potion Number Nine" and "For Your Love", the Yardbirds hit that Herman's Hermits actually recorded first.  (Truth be told, the same can be said of "Bus Stop," later a hit for The Hollies ... as well as a song The Grass Roots performed during their set, "Where Were You When I Needed You", which became their first Top 40 Hit back in 1966!)

Peter was in excellent voice and humor (LOTS of new bits this time around) and particularly excelled on his reading of "Listen People," a #3 Smash in 1966.  Another personal favorite for me was "I Gotta Dream On," a Herman's Hermits B-Side that I think stands right up there with their very best hit material.  He also ventured out into the audience to perform a couple of songs and meet some of the fans ... a very exciting and entertaining night of music all 'round.

Collectively these three groups featured some of the very best music of the '60's and early '70's.

18 - Timothy B. Schmit - City Winery  (April)

I didn't really know what to expect seeing Timothy B. Schmit in a solo show.  

I mean, I love his voice … and he's been a GREAT compliment to The Eagles (and, at the time, after the passing of Glenn Frey, it was uncertain that The Eagles would ever perform together again.  Of course by now you already know that they've put together a full-scale tour for 2018 with Glenn's son Deacon and Country Superstar Vince Gill onboard as new members of the band.  Doubling up in certain cities with Jimmy Buffett or James Taylor, this looks to be one of the major tours of 2018)

What I liked about the Timothy B. Schmit show was the fact that, although I wasn't familiar with most of  the music he played, I enjoyed all of it … enough to come home and download some of his solo material just because I was so impressed with what he played.

From my original concert review:

He's a soft-spoken guy with an absolutely pure and beautiful voice ... and, to my surprise, played nearly all upbeat material, rocking out FAR harder than I ever would have expected. (Schmit played to a near capacity house on Easter Sunday Night, the first gig of his new 17-city tour.)

This is one of those shows I enjoyed so much that I wish they'd release a live, dvd of the complete performance so you could enjoy it again and again ... being unfamiliar with most of Timothy's solo work, he completely won me over with a set that never dragged and completely enchanted the crowd.  (I've already downloaded seven of these "new to me" tracks ... and just may come back for more!)

Timothy and his band (I guess I can refer to these guys as "his other band" since all night long he referred to The Eagles as "his other band") opened the show with "One More Mile" and we were instantly hooked.  Other immediate favorites were "My Hat", "Red Dirt Road", "Ella Jean" (a song about the long vacation his wife took in Hawaii while Timothy labored at home alone trying to crank out his next album), "White Boy From Sacramento" (which really highlighted his trio of female back-up singers) and a killer rendition of the Poco song "Keep On Tryin'", stripped down to just Timothy on guitar while the entire band and chorus rallied around him with spot-on, perfect harmonies.  (I will say this ... throughout the performance this group delved into a wide variety of styles and genres ... country ... rock ... gospel ... balls out rock and roll and soft ballads ... and they excelled at each and every one of them!)

During a short mid-set acoustic break that Schmit did on his own, he paid tribute to his recently departed bandmate Glenn Frey by singing an absolutely beautiful version of "Peaceful Easy Feeling" that drew massive applause from the crowd.  He didn't do one of his OWN Eagles songs, however, until an hour and forty-five minutes into his set (which is a LONG time to wait for the songs you really came to hear!) ... but he completely satisfied his audience with a touching version of "I Can't Tell You Why", my personal favorite by him. (He did two more Eagles tracks as part of his encore ... the equally stirring "Love Will Keep Us Alive" and "I Don't Want To Hear Anymore".)

All in all, an excellent show and highly recommended if he happens to hit your area.

17 - Petula Clark  (Arcada Theatre – December)

Petula Clark is a living legend … so to FINALLY have the chance to see her perform some of her biggest hits was a real treat for me.  (I had seen her before in the role of the mother in “Blood Brothers” to sons Shawn and David Cassidy … but THIS time she was going to be doing the hits that made her an international recording star.  (At age 85, I couldn’t believe that NOW she was going to take her act back out on the road … but she also has a brand new album to promote … so it all made sense in the long run.)

From my original review (kicking off with a recap by FH Reader Tom Apathy, who saw her a few days before we did, in Ohio):

She opened the show with You And I / Meant To Be, and then went right into the first hit of the night, Don't Sleep In The Subway.  Pet then talked about her friend Peggy Lee, and channeled her, singing Fever.  She next talked about starring in Finian's Rainbow with Fred Astaire, directed by a then unknown Francis Ford Coppola, and his friend, George Lucas.  In an Irish accent, she sang Look To The Rainbow and How Are Things In Glocca Mora. 

My Love was her only hit not recorded in London, but in LA ... but Petula sang the hit as if she recorded it in Nashville.

Next was From Now On, from her new CD ... then into a couple hits from Stella McCartney's Dad (Blackbird) and his former partner (John Lennon)'s Imagine, telling of her meeting in Toronto with John and Yoko.

Petula then sang With One Look, from her play Sunset Boulevard ... then went into a medley of Who Am I / Color My World.
She told a very entertaining story about Charlie Chaplin writing This Is My Song ... and of her meeting with him ... and how she did not get the role in the movie, which went to Sophia Loren, who may have had a better body, but could not sing ... ha!  The concert finished up with Living For Today, I Know A Place / Sign Of The Times, When You See A Chance, I Couldn't Live Without Your Love, Downtown and Rainbow.  
   -- Tom Apathy

It sounds to me like Petula put on essentially the same show ... about 75 minutes from start to finish ... and we found her to be in good voice and good spirits throughout.  (There were a couple of shaky notes here and there, but overall she put on a pretty strong show.  At one point, after a particularly rough finish to a song, her pianist / musical director brought her a bottle of water ... but she rebounded nicely from this point forward.)

In Petula's case, that's saying a lot because the entire performance rests squarely on her shoulders without so much as a single back-up singer to pitch in here or there.  (Her band was a pretty stripped-down five-piece, looking a bit like a jazz combo although sounding nothing at all like one ... actually, they were pretty "vanilla" throughout.) She covered the majority of her hits (as described by Tom above), although a few more than we would have liked were performed in medley-form.  (She seemed to be favoring some of her show tunes and tracks from her brand new album instead, giving them full-length performances, while combo-ing some of her more familiar material.)

The sold out crowd was very appreciative throughout, awarding her with multiple standing ovations.  Oddly enough, for me, two of the stand point performances of the night were quite unexpected ... first, her reading of the Charlie Chaplin tune "This Is My Song" (a #3 Hit in 1967 and never one of my favorites ... but it sounded outstanding Sunday night) and then her beautiful arrangement of Steve Winwood's "While You See A Chance," which had some nice synthesized background sounds and voices mixed in by her other keyboard player.

Petula is not a real dynamic performer ... but came across as very likeable and with a great sense of humor about herself.  (Her band didn't really allow or offer anything in the way of theatrics either ... but together they all combined to play a very satisfying evening of music.)

I'm glad we finally had the chance to see her ... and she seemed to be enjoying herself up there.  Petula Clark is a voice of our time ... and it was great to finally see her.

The countdown continues tomorrow in Forgotten Hits!

span style="font-size: x-large;">16 - Happy Together - The Archies / The Association / The Cowsills / The Box Tops / Chuck Negron / The Turtles   (August / The Genesee Theatre)

Front runners Flo and Eddie (Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan, partners in The Turtles franchise for over fifty years now) finally mixed up the line-up for a change in this year’s Happy Together Tour.

New to the bill were The Archies (essentially Ron Dante performing with the “house” back-up band) and The Box Tops, featuring original members Bill Cunningham and Gary Talley .

We LOVE The Cowsills and have seen them at least half a dozen times now … their abbreviated set within the confines of this show doesn’t do them justice so we’re looking forward to seeing them again in a headlining show somewhere down the road.  (They're coming back to The Arcada Theatre next year, paired with The Grass Roots and Gary Puckett and the Union Gap ... so this should be a great show!)  For the Happy Together Show we were seated with Carl Giammarese of The Buckinghams and their former drummer … and currently one of Paul Revere’s Raiders … Tommy Sheckel, who introduced us to Susan and Bob Cowsill after the show.  The Buckinghams did the Happy Together circuit for YEARS but were out of the line-up this time around … so it had to be interesting for Carl to watch the show from this new perspective.

Chuck Negron seemed a little bit “off” that night to my ears but based on the mail we received after the show, he appeared to be everyone else’s favorite … so maybe it was ME that was off rather than him!

The Association sounded great (we had just seen them open for Tommy James and the Shondells a few months before) but we were disappointed by how short The Turtles’ act was … and got the feeling that they were simply “going thru the motions” the night we saw them … too bad because they’re typically VERY entertaining in concert.

From my original review:

For 32 years now, The Happy Together Tour has never failed to delight and enchant oldies music fans with a variety of feel-good music from the '60's and early '70's.  Thursday night at The Genesee Theatre was no exception.  (This was the first time this show has played this venue.)

The line-up was revamped a little bit for this year's tour.  Ron Dante (the voice of The Archies and The Cuff Links) opened the program with a very energetic set of music that really got the crowd going and revved up the expectations of what was to come.  This is Ron's first year on The Happy Together Tour and he was in fine voice, opening his set with his Top 5 hit, "Tracy," from 1969.  (As the "ghost singer" on this hit for The Cuff Links ... and the lead vocalist for the animated Archies ... Ron was actually competing with himself on the charts with this hit, as "Sugar Sugar" raced to the top to become the biggest record of 1969.)  In addition to that hit (which closed his set), he also sang The Archies' hits "Jingle Jangle" and "Bang-Shang-A-Lang," two other National Top Ten Hits. 

Along the way, he sang the first two lines of his Top 20 1965 hit with The Detergents, "Leader Of The Laundromat":  "My folks were always putting her down - because our laundry came back brown" ... talked about his career as a jingles singer (and then sang several examples, accompanied by video of the actual commercials playing in the background), and also talked about producing a string of hit records for Barry Manilow who, he pointed out, often had The Archies singing background on his records!  All-in-all, a VERY fun set ... Ron sounded great and looked to be having a lot of fun up there ... and the audience reciprocated in kind with a rousing ovation.

Next up came The Cowsills, who I had the chance to meet after the show.  (I have been trying to connect with these guys for years now as our Forgotten Hits coverage of them has been often and extremely kind ... so it was a real pleasure for me to finally get the chance to say hello.)

We have seen The Cowsills six or seven times over the past few years (including a couple of appearances as part of The Happy Together Tour) and they have been spot on each and every time.  They just hit the stage and nail it.  (If you ever get the chance to see their full show, go ... you will be blown away.  Limited to just a few songs within the context of this tour, you just don't get to see a lot of the magic and humor that comes across during their usual performance.)

They were OUTSTANDING (our votes for Best of the Night ... again), kicking off with a letter perfect version of "The Rain, The Park and Other Things," followed by "We Can Fly," "Indian Lake" (a song only Susan wanted to do initially ... but hey, who listens to an eight year old?!?!), the theme to the hit television series "Love, American Style" and then the show-closer, their #1 Hit "Hair," which had the whole audience up on their feet.  GREAT show.

Next up ... The Box Tops.

This was my first chance to see the recently reformed band, featuring two original members (Bill Cunningham on bass and Gary Talley on guitar), joined by our old FH Buddy Rick Levy on guitar.  It's tough to play these hits live without the distinctive voice of Alex Chilton, who had such a unique sound but passed away in 2010, but I'll have to say the guys did a more than credible job of pulling it off.  (Talley has just enough grit in his voice to capture the feel of the original hit records,, some of the best "blue-eyed soul" music recorded in the '60s.) 

Their set consisted of "Cry Like A Baby," "Soul Deep," and one of my favorites, "Neon Rainbow."  They broke for a minute to give Bill a chance to move to the keyboards, where they then knocked out a great cover version of the Booker T and MG's hit "Green Onions" before regrouping to play their #1 Hit "The Letter" to close the first half of the show.

After a brief intermission, out came The Association, down to just three vocalists for this tour, which included original members Jim Yester and Jules Alexander.  Anyone  who has followed Forgotten Hits for any number of years knows that we have always been honest about our reviews of The Association ... their entire sound is driven by their harmonies and when they're on, they're beautiful ... and when they're off, they're absolutely cringe-inducing.  That's the upside ... and the downside ... of building your entire act around perfect, precise harmony.

Well, let me tell you that Thursday night was the absolute best I've EVER heard them sound ... absolutely impeccable.  (Frannie even remarked that they may want to reconsider some of the "dead weight" that may be hampering their performance when they're out on their own ... as they sounded simply flawless Thursday Night.)  Again, they stuck to the hits ... "Windy," "Never My Love," "Cherish" and "Along Comes Mary" ... but were an absolute delight to watch.

Next came Chuck Negron of Three Dog Night.  We have seen Chuck several times before as part of The Happy Together Tour ... and have often seen him steal the show ... but to my ears, he seemed to really be struggling to hit a lot of these notes this time around.  If there was a weakest link in Thursday night's performance (and there has to be one when you've got six acts performing), I'd have to say it had to be Chuck.  (Now, having said that, I talked with three of the Forgotten Hits Ticket Winners after the show and they ALL said, each and every one, that they thought Chuck Negron's set was the STRONGEST set of the night ... so take what I'm saying with a grain of salt ... in fact, the reviews after the show echo this same sentiment.)

He kicked off his set with "Celebrate," a #11 hit for Three Dog Night in 1970, followed by "Easy To Be Hard" (#1, 1969, and easily the single worst performance of the night ... it was painful to listen to and I couldn't wait for it to end ... he might do better to keep his set to all up-tempo numbers), "Eli's Coming" (#7, 1969) ... he definitely redeemed himself with this one ... "One" (#1, 1969 ... their first of seven #1 Hits) ... and then ending with their biggest hit of all (#1 for six straight weeks in 1971), "Joy To The World," which again had the entire theatre up on its feet, singing along ... and was absolutely his strongest performance of the night.  (He told the audience that the other guys in Three Dog Night ... Danny Hutton and Cory Wells ... originally didn't want to record this song ... but Chuck believed in it and so he cut the track with the band on his own.  When Danny came into the studio to see what he was doing, he asked "Are you high?" ... to which Chuck replied, "Am I high?  Why do you ask if I'm high?" ... only to have Danny retort "Because I think you're singing about a frog, man.")  Funny stuff ... but Chuck was proven right ... "Joy To The World" became the biggest hit of 1971 ... Three Dog Night's biggest hit ever ... and one of the biggest hits of the decade ... and all time.

Naturally, The Turtles (Flo and Eddie ... Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman) closed the show.

You never know what schtick they're going to do when they first hit the stage ... this time around, it was a send-up of "Beauty And The Beast" ... for which Howard immediately took Mark to task for coming up with such a lame opening.  "We're the headliners," he screamed ... and now all everyone is going to remember is how we loused up the show."

I swear their set seems to get shorter and shorter each time we see them ... which is a shame because on their own, they take their time and deliver a very entertaining show.  This time it seemed like their entire performance was presented in rapid-fire ... get on and get off ... and honestly, several of the acts came off that way ... and I get it ... with this many performers, you've got to bring the show in on time ... but The Turtles and The Cowsills both seemed especially rushed this time around, which hampers their connection with the audience.  Take the time to ENJOY what you're doing.

They did the hits ... "She'd Rather Be With Me," "You Baby," "Elenore" and, of course, "Happy Together" ... but left out Top 20 hits like "It Ain't Me Babe," "You Showed Me," and "She's My Girl" along the way.  (I don't think I've EVER seen them not perform "You Showed Me," which, last time around, was absolutely the highlight of their set.)  There seemed to be a lot more emphasis on the clowning around this time than on the music itself ... and we felt a little bit cheated that they didn't take themselves seriously enough to pay proper reverence to their incredible hit catalog.

Still, start to finish, this was a GREAT show ... VERY entertaining and well worth seeing.

15 - Paul Revere's Raiders / Mitch Ryder / Peter Rivera  (November / The Arcada Theatre)

Speaking of Tommy Scheckel, we got to see Paul Revere’s Raiders perform at The Arcada Theatre in November.  This was an especially interesting show because this time around, in addition to their OWN show, they also gave back-up support to Peter Rivera, former lead singer of Rare Earth, and Mitch Ryder, both of whom had been performing with the band on their "Where The Action Is" Cruise.

This was a first time for me to see both of these classic artists … and they both put on a great show. (Truth be told, I’ve never been much of a Mitch Ryder fan, but he won me over that night … and Peter Rivera, who I’ve tried to see at least half a dozen times in the past, put on an incredible show both on the drums and vocally … although certainly a little bit older since Rare Earth’s hey-day, this guy hasn’t lost a step vocally when it comes to putting on a spell-binding performance.

Especially enjoyable was the way The Raiders rose to the occasion … it felt like each guy stepped up to the next level when given the opportunity to cut loose and rock a little harder than usual due to the restraints of The Raiders’ own catalog of hits.  (I’ve got to give special props to guitarist Doug Heath, who simply SHINED the whole night through with blow ‘em out solo after solo.  I told him after the show that he had to be having a ball up there playing a set like this … who knew he could cut loose and rock like that?!?!?)

From our original review …

With a little less schtick as part of the show since the passing of their leader, Paul Revere's Raiders have added more hits to the line-up but, due to time restraints, a good number of these hits are only presented in medley-form now.  As such, great tracks like "The Great Airplane Strike," "Good Thing," "Ups And Downs," "Him Or Me, What's It Going To Be," "Mr. Sun, Mr. Moon," "Let Me," and "Birds Of A Feather" are now represented but in a limited, highly-edited medley format.  (They still do full-length versions of "Just Like Me," the show opener, "Kicks" and their #1 Hit "Indian Reservation" ... and they're still a joy to watch on a pure energy level, between all the little dance steps by the guys upfront and Tommy Scheckel wailing away on the drums.)

But this time around, instead of only having to concentrate on their own show, they're also the back-up band for their very special guests, Peter Rivera and Mitch Ryder ... and let me tell you, I've never seen The Raiders rock the way they do when playing behind these guys.  (Special kudos to guitarist Doug Heath ... man, who knew he could play like that?!?!  We were blown away!)  Within the confines of a regular Raiders show, the guitar chops aren't quite as demanding ... but Doug rose to every challenge ... and then exceeded them ten fold ... he was truly phenomenal in this role ... and HAS to be lovin' the chance to push his musical boundaries.

But honestly ALL of the guys seemed to kick it up a notch once Peter Rivera took to the stage.  Rivera put on a top-notch set of Rare Earth Classics like "Born To Wander," "I Just Want To Celebrate," "Hey Big Brother," "(I Know) I'm Losing You," a very bluesy and crowd-pleasing rendition of "Tobacco Road" and, of course, Rare Earth's big break-through hit, "Get Ready."  The man can still sing ... and sounds just like the records. He's just got that distinctive voice that cuts right to your soul.

After a brief intermission, it was Mitch Ryder's turn.  Now I will admit that growing up I was never much of a Mitch Ryder fan ... but I was absolutely mesmerized by his performance.  Mitch just nailed it again and again and again ... performing most of the hits you'd want to hear ("Sock It To Me, Baby," "Jenny Take A Ride," "Little Latin Lupe Lu," something that I can only presume was called "Bow Wow Wow Wow" and, of course, his signature tune, "Devil With A Blue Dress On,") which brought down the house.  He was funny and entertaining and made for the perfect lead in back into The Raiders' final set.

A very entertaining presentation of some of the finest music of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s … by three of the premier acts that made it happen … and still sound great today.

14 - Symphonic Rock - Teri Nunn / Mickey Thomas / Lou Gramm  (June / Genesee Theatre)


This was an interesting concept ... take three of the most distinctive voices in Classic Rock Music, put them in front of a killer rock band and a full 30-piece orchestra, and let them do what they do best. 

Christine Lafond and Marc LaBelle did their best to warm things up by performing many of the rock classics we hear every day (in fact, we sat with Greg Easterling of The Drive for this show and I kidded him afterwards that he now got to go back to the studio and play all of these same songs again!) ... then bring out Teri Nunn, the voice of Berlin, Mickey Thomas, the 1980's voice of Jefferson Starship and Lou Gramm of Foreigner to do their biggest hits, along with a few other Classic Rock favorites.

It worked for me.  (Forgotten Hits had two rows of seats for this show and everybody who attended raved about what a great concert it was.  Unfortunately, the theater was better than half empty ... which makes absolutely NO sense to me at all.  All I can say is you guys missed a GREAT show!)

From my original review: 

I was really looking forward to this show and was surprised to hear that ticket sales weren't what they had hoped for.  It sounded like a stellar line-up to me ... Lou Gramm, former lead singer of Foreigner, Mickey Thomas, lead singer of Starship and Terri Nunn, former lead singer of Berlin ... three VERY distinctive voices in the Classic Rock arena, backed by a solid rock band and a full symphony orchestra.  I thought this would have been a no-brainer and draw quite the crowd ... but, thanks to slow sales, we were able to take about a dozen of our Forgotten Hits Readers with us to the show (along with their guests) for a rousing night of rock music.

The crowd may have been smaller than usual but the folks who were there were there in force ... between the singing along, the roaring cheers and the standing ovations that filled the night, you would have thought we were sitting in the middle of a stadium full of rock fans ... EVERYBODY enjoyed this show (and you knew it appealed to everyone when you heard various audience members throughout the night and after the concert talking about who THEY thought was the best ... because all three lead singers were mentioned by different people!)  This was definitely a crowd-pleasing event.

The show opens with the backup band, led by a male and female lead vocalist, Marc LaBelle and Christine Lafond, who perform a short set of Classic Rock staples, kicking off with the Pat Benatar hit "Shadows Of The Night", followed by killer renditions of Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir", Aerosmith's "Dream On" and Journey's "Separate Ways", all fully augmented by what appeared to be at least a 60-piece full symphony orchestra. (I had no idea the Genesee stage was as big as it was to house all these musicians!)  The results were absolutely stirring, even more so on "Kashmir" where the orchestra was used to its full effect, complimented by an absolutely perfect vocal by Marc, the male lead vocalist.  The performance of this song ranked as one of the highlights of the entire evening.  (Their lead guitarist, Chris Vazquez, is about as unlikely looking rock star as imaginable, but he can really wail on his instrument.  Likewise, Christine just doesn't look comfortable in her "rock diva" role and was probably far more effective singing backgrounds and joining Mickey Thomas for some counter vocals later in the show.  Marc LeBelle, on the other hand, plays the role of rock star quite perfectly and has an incredible vocal range.)

After a couple more numbers, they brought out Terri Nunn who sang three of Berlin's hits ("No More Words", "The Metro" and their big #1 Hit from the movie "Top Gun", "Take My Breath Away.)  Nunn was in fine voice and looked amazing, too, wearing a cut-away dress that left little to the imagination, especially when she ventured out into the audience to greet the fans and sing her last tune.  (She almost looks as if she could be Debbie Harry's sister ... and the story she told surrounding the circumstances of Berlin trying to find their sound and then clicking with "The Metro" also reminded me that without Berlin, there probably would have been no No Doubt and Gwen Stefani ... they HAD to be listening to this music and using it as inspiration when it came time to start their own band.)

Her best song of the night, however (and perhaps THE best song performance of the night) was her incredible version of the Journey hit "Faithfully" ... it was absolutely electric.  (Terri said she was asked to perform the song by tour organizer Stephen Cook, who put this whole symphonic rock thing together, and that since learning it, she has a much greater appreciation of Journey's music than she ever had before, especially as this song relates to life on the road for a musician in love.)  It is safe (and perhaps just a little bit corny) to say that her performance not only did the song justice ... but took our breath away.

After a short break, the band returned with Mickey Thomas, who did a short set of Starship favorites like "Find Your Way Back," "Sara" (my favorite), and, joined by Christine, the group's #1 Hits "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" and "We Built This City".  Thomas was also in excellent voice, hitting all the high notes that became so much a part of his signature sound.  "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" was also a show-stopping moment and clearly a highlight of the show.  (Unfortunately in a show like this, each artist can only do a handful of songs ... much like The Happy Together Tour and others of this ilk, it's down to a routine of coming out to a common backing band, sing three or four of your biggest hits and then making way for the next performer.  As such, GREAT Mickey Thomas classics like "Jane" and "Fooled Around And Fell In Love" were sadly omitted from the set ... and that's too bad ... because as good as Mickey sounded Thursday night, it would have been great to hear him perform THESE rock classics, too.) 

And then it was time for headliner Lou Gramm.

We had just seen Lou several months before at The Arcada Theatre.It was one of the loudest shows I've ever seen, making the evening extremely painful and unenjoyable.  (I am a lifetime Foreigner fan and love their music and was SO disappointed to hear it presented this way.) I figured it would be a different story this time around, accompanied by a top-notch band and a full orchestra, which would set the tone for the evening in the way of a much more balanced, overall sound.  Gramm's set was still probably the loudest of the evening ... but this time around you didn't still feel the pulsation in your chest or the ringing in your ears two hours afterwards!

The audience definitely responded well to Gramm ... who drew the loudest and most consistent response from the crowd as he performed the Foreigner hits "Feels Like The First Time", "Cold As Ice", "I Want To Know What Love Is" and "Jukebox Hero" before bringing out the other performers for ensemble performances of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" (a great duet by Mickey Thomas and Terri Nunn of an overplayed classic) and Foreigner's "Hot Blooded".  The fans clearly wanted more but that was all she wrote, despite a long ovation clamoring for an encore.

It's funny because due to the song selection (some of the most obvious and over-played classic rock radio tracks) there were times at various points of the evening that I almost felt like we were viewing a live version of "Rock Of Ages" in a way, only with better voices (thanks to the original artists on many of the tunes) and the benefit of a full symphony orchestra.  When all was said and done, more Journey songs were performed that night than Berlin songs, which really seems a bit out of kilter to me.  Why not mix things up a little bit and take full advantage of the orchestra and perform something by ELO instead???  Or maybe The Moody Blues?  Queen?  Or, since our concert took place on June 1st, perhaps a group performance of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," since it marked the 50th Anniversary of this landmark release?)

Overall, this was a GREAT night of music, presented in EXCELLENT fashion.  (Two days later I'm still hearing from folks who were there, raving about what an incredible show it was.)  WDRV Disc Jockey Greg Easterling was one of our guests that night (imagine that ... US giving concert tickets to a radio station instead of the other way around!!!  lol) and during the intermission I joked that in a few hours he could go and do his show and play most of these same songs again on the air.  He admitted that he had already played four or five of them on his last program to which I replied, "You and every other radio station in the country."  Thus the "Rock Of Ages" comment (especially thanks to the inclusion of "Don't Stop Believin'", which pushed it over the top for me, despite an excellent reading of the tune) and the selection of so many of the "obvious" classic rock tunes that made up the early portion of the show.  

13 - Priscilla Presley  (August / The Arcada Theatre)

Ron Onesti has been presenting more and more of these one-on-one interview-type shows at The Arcada Theatre so we've seen a few of these now.  (This one went very well ... an earlier presentation of the recently-departed David Cassidy did not ... it's really up to the artist themselves as to how they want to be presented on stage.)

In Priscilla's case, she told Ron upfront that NOTHING was off limits when it came to questions ... and that she was there to set the record straight about so many misconceptions and misrepresentations over the years about her and Elvis ... both together and apart.

What made this particular show so interesting was that Ron asked me to supply questions from our readers ... what would THEY ask Priscilla Presley if given the chance ... and a good number of these questions were used throughout the show.

I thought it was great ... and Priscilla came across in a much more endearing way within the context of this program.

From our original review: 

I spent an interesting and entertaining couple of hours listening to Ron Onesti of The Arcada Theatre interview Priscilla Presley on Sunday Afternoon to a pretty full house. 

One of Elvis' vintage Cadillacs was parked out front (a 1974 model, I'm told) with a TCB Lightning Bolt logo on the door, on loan from the Volo Auto Museum to welcome you in. 

Ron and Priscilla had promised a "no holds barred" session ... no topic was off limits ... and she did not want to screen any of the questions ahead of time.  Ron had asked our readers to supply some of the questions (and quite a few of them actually got used.)  Priscilla's book "Elvis and Me" has been out for years so topics like their love life (and sex life) have been circulating for ages ... and they never really got into any of the nitty gritty details in this respect ... still, so much has happened over the past 40 years that plenty of new topics were explored.  

Priscilla cautioned us early on that she could never really communicate with Elvis on a level playing field ... NOBODY could ... because he was "the one and only" ... he didn't have any other entertainers of his stature to compare notes with ... and his guys, the so-called Memphis Mafia, were there just to joke and laugh and kid around ... keep him company for whatever whim possessed him at the time.  As such, even if Priscilla asked him what was wrong or what he was thinking or feeling, he barely ever answered her. 

Once Ron and Priscilla took the stage, the dialog never stopped ... they talked for two hours straight covering a wide variety of topics (and I never even saw either of them stop to take a drink of water!)

For the sake of this review, I've tried to group some of the topics covered in the way we sent them in so this doesn't necessarily follow the flow of the show as it unfolded Sunday Afternoon ... however, it does give you a pretty good feel as to how varied and in depth some of these issues were explored.  (Priscilla's main purpose in doing this, she said, was to set the record straight.  Far too many mistruths have been published and circulated and she doesn't like the idea of history being rewritten and repeated about things so many know so little about.  The fact that last week marked the 40th anniversary of Elvis' death made the whole experience that much more poignant.)

NOTE:  For the purposes of this recap, this segment has been heavily edited in an effort to offer a glimpse of the variety of topics covered during the course of this appearance.  If you missed our original review and would like a a complete copy, just drop me a line at and we'll send it along.

Their first meeting:
There were two English girls there at Elvis' house nearly every time she visited ... and they seemed to be quite chummy with Elvis.  One night, when Elvis couldn't find his white guitar pick, one of the girls told him that she last saw it on the nightstand next to his bed.  Priscilla quickly put two and two together and figured they must be more than "friends".  (She also said that Elvis respected her and refused to have sex with her until she reached the age of 21.  This frustrated Priscilla MUCH more than it seemed to bother Elvis, who was still having sex with a wide variety of girls he wasn't keeping "pure".)   

Ron Onesti:  Was Elvis was already doing drugs by the time you met him while he was in the Army?
PRISCILLA:  He was ... and it probably started a little bit earlier than that.  He would reach the ultimate high while performing on stage and then need a sleeping pill in order to calm down and get any rest at all.  Then he'd need an upper to get charged up again the next day.  "Elvis didn't like to take pills alone ... and you just didn't say 'no' to Elvis Presley."   I still have ... to this day ... the very first sleeping pill he ever gave me."  (She took the pill from him ... but then never "took the pill" ... her mother had warned her early on about boys trying to seduce girls through medication and whether she was fearful and heeding this warning or was simply to scared to take it, she has saved the pill for the past sixty years!

On breaking up with The King:

"I just couldn't take the drug use anymore ... I couldn't continue to live this lifestyle."
Priscilla says that she flew out to Las Vegas to see Elvis perform at the International Hotel with the intent of telling him that she was leaving him ... but by the time she got there, it was time to go see his show ... and then there was all that "unwind" time after ... by the time they finally got to bed around 5 or 6 am, she was too tired to tell him and decided she would tell him in the morning.
When they woke up, she asked if they could talk.  Elvis said, "Sure," and Priscilla said, "I'm leaving." 
Elvis figured as much ... "Sure, I understand ... what time is your flight?"
"No, I mean I'm leaving ... I'm leaving you ... I can't do this anymore."
Elvis was heartbroken but she believed he understood.  Their divorce was completely amicable ... they held hands walking into and out of the courtroom ... and even held hands during the ceremony.

The last time she talked to Elvis:  

Priscilla said she last talked to Elvis two days before he died.  She had heard that he wasn't feeling well and knew that Lisa Marie was supposed to be flying home in a couple of days as Elvis was starting a new tour.  He told her he was having some problems with his girlfriend, Ginger Alden, but that he was all-right and was sure everything would be fine.
Two days later she got the call that Elvis had died and time just stopped.  She didn't believe it - refused to believe it.  Elvis would often check himself into a hospital for some down time ... a chance to decompress and recharge his batteries.  She didn't believe he could really be dead.  And then she asked about Lisa Marie and got back to taking care of the business now at hand.
The Beatles / The British Invasion / And The Movie Years:  
Naturally, Elvis watched The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show ... this is where he had made his biggest mark just a few years before.  The Beatles to a man would agree that without Elvis, there would be no Beatles.  A special meeting was arranged for The Beatles to meet Elvis.  (kk)
When The Beatles arrived, Elvis and Priscilla greeted them at the door and brought them into the den where Elvis had the tv on with the sound turned off, a large jukebox and a bass guitar.  Virtually nobody said a word.  Elvis kept playing the same record, Charlie Rich's "Mohair Sam" again and again and again on the jukebox and dabbled with the bass guitar a little bit ... but none of The Beatles spoke.  Elvis finally got up and said, "If you're just all going to sit there and look at me, I may as well go on off to bed."  This broke the mood and everybody quickly lightened up and began to have a good time. 
Priscilla insists that when The Beatles first pulled up, they all came in one limousine ... but Jerry Schilling, one of Elvis' closed confidants, says they each came in their own limo and that a total of four cars pulled into the driveway that night.  Jerry and Priscilla have debated this for years!  A short while back, Priscilla had dinner with Paul McCartney and she asked him point blank, "When you came up to the house to meet Elvis, were you in one car or four cars."  Paul admitted, "I don't remember" ... and then went on to tell her how each and every Beatle had a completely different recollection what went on that night.  Whenever they would discuss meeting Elvis amongst themselves, they all had different memories as to just what happened that night.  They both laughed ... but also agreed that they wished they had some souvenir memento to honor such a momentous night in musical history.
The affairs: Ron Onesti asked Priscilla about Elvis' alleged flings with Nancy Sinatra and Ann-Margret  
Priscilla said that while she and Elvis were apart, all the movie magazine were playing up this big romance between Elvis and Nancy Sinatra ... but she insists that Elvis and Nancy were never anything more than just friends ... and that Nancy and Priscilla were friends as well.  (Nancy Sinatra threw Priscilla's baby shower when she found out she was pregnant with Lisa Marie.)  However, being an ocean apart and reading every day about Elvis' hot new romance definitely weighed on her ... and she began to wonder if she would ever see him again. 
As for Ann-Margret, that's a different story ... Ann posed a real threat to her relationship with Elvis.  They definitely had an affair ... and Priscilla said she learned to live with the idea that this is simply what singers and entertainers did ... they had their life on the road with any number of meaningless flings and, as long as they didn't bring it home and could be the perfect husband once they got there, you just learned to live with it. 
But Ann-Margret was more than just a meaningless fling ... and Priscilla had serious concerns.  Elvis finally admitted to it ... and then assured her that it was over.  He said they were just too alike ... they both sang and danced and acted ... and in a career like that, there's really only room for one ... you just can't have two ... so he broke it off.  According to Priscilla, Ann-Margret took the news pretty hard ... and would still try to contact Elvis to find out why ... what had gone wrong ... even leaving him a message one time that read "I Just Don't Understand," the name of her big 1961 hit.  Ironically, she married actor Roger Smith just one week after Elvis' wedding to Priscilla in 1967.  She and Elvis remained close friends for the rest of his life ... and Ann and Roger are still married today.  (Editor's Note:  Roger Smith died later that year)
The 1968 NBC Television Special: 
Yes, Elvis was somewhat nervous ... but the fact that Producer / Director Steve Binder was NOT nervous ... and instead pushed Elvis out on that stage and made him do perhaps the most electrifying performance of his career, turned everything around for The King Of Rock And Roll.  Elvis KILLED it that night ... I don't care how many times you watch this special ... it NEVER diminishes the impact he made on a world where many had probably already written him off as passe. 
"You have to remember that I had never seen Elvis perform before ... during the time I was with him, Elvis was making movies ... he wasn't out on the road doing concerts and touring ... or doing television appearances ... he'd fly out to location and make his latest film and then fly home again ... so I never had the experience of what it was like to see Elvis live on stage ... naturally, I was blown away."  ("Now I get it," she laughed) 
They watched the special together at home ... just the two of them with Sonny West ... and nobody spoke a word during the entire hour it was on ... but the moment it was over they whooped it up big time.  Soon the phone was ringing and it just didn't stop ... Elvis was getting calls from all over the world telling him how incredible he was that night.  
Priscilla's Acting Career:
Priscilla, of course, had her own career after the death of Elvis, starring on the hit television series "Dallas" for five years as Jenna Wade ... and then costarring in the Naked Gun Movies.  Our readers wanted to know about this, too ... and Ron worked some of these questions and topics into his "Lightning Round" of questions ...

If given the chance, would you have shot J.R. Ewing?
Absolutely!  I would have LOVED to shoot JR ... with a big ol' 45.   
The cast had a lot of fun together on the set.  Larry Hagman (JR) and Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing) started to embody their television characters off the screen as well, acting very much like the rich, spoiled Ewing brothers both on and off the set.  "And Larry," she said, was always ready with a glass of champagne ... of course this was a 7:00 in the morning!"  Priscilla says she was originally only supposed to appear on one season ... but the character became so popular that they ended up extending her role for five years!

My first thought was to ask her about her beaver ... the stuffed one that Leslie Nielson saw in a scene from Naked Gun.    (Phil Nee - WRCO)
Incredibly, Ron DID go there ... but Priscilla sort of brushed the whole thing off.

Did she do much work with OJ on Naked Gun? If so, how did he seem? 
(Mitch Michaels / The River)  
You worked with OJ Simpson on the Naked Gun movies.  Did you ever see that side of him?  Where you believe he could have been that violent of a man to kill his ex-wife?  (Ron Onesti) 
Yes, actually I did. OJ and Nicole were getting divorced while we were making the third Naked Gun movie and it was clear how upset he was. We were friends with both of them ... in fact, I dated Robert Kardashian for a time ... so I got to know both of them pretty well ... but when the news of the divorce came down, OJ just got this look in his eye ... and several times he said, "If I can't have her, nobody will." I had heard from Nicole's sister, who was dating one of my friends, that he had hit her in the past ... and the first time I ever went there, up to their house, I was dating Mike Edwards at the time, and he told me that OJ took him aside, slammed him up against a wall, lifted him up by his neck and warned him "Stay away from my wife.  If I ever see you near my wife, I'll kill you."  (Talk about your memorable first impressions! - kk)  Mike said it scared the hell out of him ... and he could see the demon in OJ's eyes ... he was dead serious ... so yes, I have no doubt that he killed Nicole.
What's your favorite Elvis memory?  (Mitch Michaels)  
PRISCILLA:  We were both happiest in Hawaii ... we could just be ourselves there ... and be alone without any other demands being imposed on us.  And we were happy at Graceland, when it was just the two of us horseback riding.
What is your favorite Elvis movie?  (Phil Nee) 
PRISCILLA:  I love the first four ... but King Creole would be my favorite
What was Elvis' favorite of his movies?  (Ron Onesti)
PRISCILLA:  Definitely King Creole
What is YOUR favorite Elvis song?  And which of his recordings were among his favorites?  (kk)
PRISCILLA:  My favorite would have to be either "An American Trilogy" or "If I Can Dream." His favorite was "It's Now Or Never"
(Wow ... I wouldn't have guessed that one!  kk)
Boxers or Briefs?  (Ron Onesti)
(complete laughter by everybody on hand)
Priscilla:  (still laughing) Well, definitely NOT boxers ... and sometimes briefs
Ron Onesti:  No, I meant you!!!  (more laughter from everyone)
Great interview - great afternoon.  (kk)

Priscilla Presley returns for another "Elvis and Me" session ... this time at The Genesee Theatre ... on February 2nd.  (I wonder who'll be asking the questions this time around?  Without a host like Ron Onesti, I just can't imagine it being anywhere near as entertaining!)  kk 

12 - Herb Alpert  (November, The City Winery)

You can’t discuss ‘60’s music without mentioning Herb Alpert who led The Tijuana Brass to major success with SIX #1 Albums and a completely alternate sound to the era that appealed to the adults as much as it did to the kids.

Incredibly, I’d never seen him perform live before … so when Herb (and his wife Lani Hall, former lead vocalist of Sergio Mendes’ Brasil ’66) were booked to perform at Chicago’s City Winery, I just knew we had to go see it.

No question about it … they’re both pros after having done this for so many years … and seem perfectly relaxed up on the stage, drawing the audience in as well with almost a personal, one-on-one concert.  (With as many hits as Herb has had, he had to do medleys for quite a few of them … but still offered up a nice representation of the best-known work from his incredible catalog of music.)

From my original review:

We got a real musical treat last night when we were invited to attend the Herb Alpert and Lani Hall concert at The City Winery.

Not knowing exactly what to expect, we were pleasantly surprised (and very pleased!) to see these two talented, veteran artists perform with an incredibly tight jazz trio, providing all of the accentuated highlights along the way, whether that meant killer vocals by Lani or some amazing trumpet playing from Herb.  (The trio of Bill Cantos, Michael Shapiro and Hussain Jiffry are incredibly tight ... yet still managed to play in a free form style that allowed them to experiment and improvise along the way.  They've been together for about ten years now ... and it sounds like no two shows are ever alike ... which is a real tip of the hat to their musical ability to just run with it while still keeping it reigned in enough to fall within the format of their agenda.  As Herb quipped, "You know how you make a million dollars playing jazz?  Start with three million dollars!") 

Herb and Lani offered up a brilliantly tight performance.  (The City Winery was completely sold out for two nights for their appearances on Monday, November 6th, and Tuesday, November 7th.  When we caught their show on Monday, they played to a full house and very appreciative crowd.)

Forgotten Hits has been known to show our appreciation of the "Whipped Cream and Other Delights" album cover a time or two over the years ... (ok, about 2000 times now, but who's counting?!?!?) ... and Herb told an interesting story about the time he met a fan about three months after the album had first come out and the fan just RAVED about how much he loved the cover ... beautifully done with a gorgeous model ... very artistic and memorable for its time ... he loved the lighting ... the beautiful woman and the whipped cream ... and then Herb asked him, "Well, what do you think about the music INSIDE the album?" to which the man replied, "Well, I don't know ... I haven't gotten to that yet!"

At one point during the show, Herb brought up the fact that songs back then had a melody that you could sing along with and remember, whereas that seems to be a rare occurrence in today's music.  Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass and Sergio Mendes and Brasil '66 were right in the thick of it, recording some of the most memorable music of the '60's. 

Another concert highlight came when, after quite a bit of hesitation, Herb was persuaded to sing a bit of his #1 Hit "This Guy's In Love With You," which he prefaced by saying "My voice isn't what it never was."  (lol) 

Lani (who still sounds and looks great, by the way) and Herb (who's got a great, very relaxed sense of humor) each did a medley of their best known hits from back in the day with The Tijuana Brass and Sergio Mendes and Brasil '66, both accompanied by vintage video from that period along with album covers, picture sleeves and scenes from their television specials and appearances.  They even did a couple of Christmas tunes along the way as they've got a brand new Christmas CD available now ... and closed the show with a couple more fun videos, one set to the Jason Mraz song "I'm Yours" and another clever piece done to "Puttin' On The Ritz". 

It was a very enjoyable and classy concert ... or, as Frannie put it, some nice "adult fare" for a change.

11 - Christopher Cross  (May / The City Winery)
I have always enjoyed the music of Christopher Cross and have seen him a couple of times now … so I was looking forward to his upcoming gig at The City Winery.

I can only say that I think I enjoyed being there more than Christopher Cross did … for most of the night he seemed “detached” from his audience … kind of looking off into space and not really “participating” in the show.  Yet his material is so strong that he was still able to put on a performance worthy of ranking at #11 in our Annual Countdown of The 20 Best Shows We Saw in 2017.  (Every performer can have an “off” night … so I hate to make this particular performance the “benchmark” from which to judge all other shows.  Despite his lackluster enthusiasm, he still presented an evening of interesting and entertaining music.  THIS is why I’ve ranked him at #11, rather than drop him from the list as we had to do for a couple of other long-time favorites – like B.J. Thomas and Ronnie Milsap – who just didn’t measure up to their own standard this year.)

Interestingly enough, after our review ran we heard from several other people across the country who had recently seen Christopher Cross perform and all seemed to experience the same “detached” participation! (Honestly, it made me wonder if there is perhaps some type of health issue that may be contributing to this!)

From our original review:

I really enjoyed the music and the show we saw at The City Winery Monday Night (May 22nd) ... playing on a very cramped stage, he began his concert in a way I've never seen before ... on the first song, he never sang a note, leaving it up to his two female back-up singers to carry the vocals while he filled in with a variety of guitar riffs along the way.  (Little did I know at the time that he was setting the stage for what would be a good portion of the show to come.)

Then, before even starting his second song, he introduced each member of his band ... something customarily left for much later in the show (and usually after a big ensemble number that allowed each individual member to shine.)  The sound, normally impeccable at The City Winery, was off a bit ... not a very good balance between vocals and instruments ... throughout the evening, the vocals seemed subdued and sometimes muffled, especially when Christopher was talking rather than singing ... he very difficult to understand.  The instrumentation seemed to overpower the vocals throughout the night.

That being said, I have to emphasize that it was a sold out show ... and the selection of material and music were quite good and very entertaining.  Cross is best known for his first album, which blew the doors off the Grammys when it was released in 1980, winning an incredible five awards that night.  (The album spawned four Top 20 Hit Singles including the #1 and #2 hits "Sailing" ... which won both the Record Of The Year and Song Of The Year awards ... and "Ride Like The Wind", his debut single that featured Michael McDonald on backing vocals.  Other hits from the same LP include "Never Be The Same", #15, 1980, and "Say You'll Be Mine", #20, 1981.)

As so often seems to be the case when an artist achieves too much, too soon, the album became both a blessing and a curse ... just exactly how does one go about following up an album this big?  (Well, for starters, he next won an Oscar for Best Song from a Motion Picture for his Burt Bacharach / Carole Bayer Sager collaboration "Arthur's Theme", from the hit movie "Arthur" starring Dudley Moore, another #1 Hit in 1981 ... not too shabby!) He was, for the moment anyway, the darling of the music scene.  His sophomore LP produced the Top 40 Hits "All Right" (#12, 1983), "No Time For Talk" (#33, 1983) and "Think Of Laura" (#9, 1984) ... and then nothing.

Cross played some excellent selections from several of his other albums released over the next 32 years, none of which ever made much of a dent on the charts, and most of which are "currently available" (in his words) "in recycling bins and garage sales everywhere".  It's a shame because there is some really good music on these LPs that we were treated to on Monday night that never got their due at the time of their release.

Still I have to take points off and make this somewhat of a negative review … but have to attribute this fact to Christopher himself for making the evening less than enjoyable.  Maybe he was just off that night or not feeling well. He just didn't seem to be enjoying himself on stage.  (I've seen him a couple of times before and he was always in fine voice and great spirits.  A couple of years ago he was the headliner at a Yacht Rock concert I saw in Aurora, where he played a full set of music that was nowhere near as enjoyable as the one we saw Monday night, yet he put on a far stronger performance.)

We've seen a lot of shows where a really good singer just makes it all look so effortless when they perform ... they just ooze talent and make singing a song seem as natural as breathing, nailing a stellar performance each and every time.

Several times during Monday night's show I felt the exact opposite ... instead of "effortless" it was almost as if Cross was putting absolutely no effort into his performance.  He was weak in voice throughout the night and seemed to be breathing heavily between each and every song.  He missed some notes completely on a number of occasions and seemed just as content to let his background singers carry the load, dropping out on his vocal completely several times to concentrate on playing some guitar filler instead.  (He must have had at least six guitars up there with him!)  Simply put, he just didn't seem to be having a good time. 

He eluded a couple of times to the chore and burden of having to play the material from that first LP that made him famous ... and quite honestly when you peak that high that early in your career, the only direction left is down.  (As such, he did new arrangements on a couple of these tunes, probably just as much to mix things up a little bit as to keep things interesting for himself.  Even then, he allowed the background singers to occupy most of the spotlight on these best-known tracks.)

He did tell a couple of interesting and humorous stories between songs (when you could hear him ... again, the sound was muffled throughout the concert and there were times when it seemed that Cross could muster not much more than a whisper.)  When he did sing, he seemed to have a difficult time getting the strength behind him to sustain a solid lead vocal ... this was particularly true and most evident when it came to hitting the high notes.  (I kept thinking of a line David Gates used on stage many years ago when I saw one of Bread's last performances ... "If I knew I'd still be singing these songs thirty years later, I would have written them in a lower key.")  I do believe Christopher Cross was feeling that pain (and frustration) Monday Night.

The best performance of the night for me was an "unplugged" version of "Think Of Laura" ... surprising because that's actually one of my least favorite Christopher Cross songs.  However, he told a little of the background story that inspired him to write it ... and showed photos of the real Laura on the side screens while he performed a very emotional reading of the song ... it was all quite moving for the audience and became the highlight of the night for me.  I thoroughly enjoyed some of the "new" songs (new for me anyway!), too, and the stories that went along with them ... and "Sailing" (performed very early in the set) was another stand out moment (although his voice dropped out several times on this one, too.)

He'll be back at The City Winery in February and hopefully Cross will rise to the occasion and put on another one of those great shows like we’ve seen in the past.  (And Christopher, please try to muster up some enthusiasm for these appearances ... you looked detached up there.  If you appear bored, you risk leaving your audience feeling the same way!

And the countdown continues ... 

Be sure to check back tomorrow for our Top Ten List of the Best Concerts We Saw in 2017!