Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Hot Autumn Nights

We just received another band new concert review from our East Coast FH Correspondent Shelley Sweet-Tufano!  (Damn, Shelley, you've been going to more concerts lately than I have!!!) 

And this one sounds like a good one!  Read on ...  

The last weekend of September heralds in fall and thus … my yearly venture to Westbury, Long Island’s Historic Music Theatre , also known under the various names of whatever business currently owns them. 

Hot Autumn Nights brings out the best audience to see their favorite 60’s performers each year, who spend time signing autographs, and merchandise while actively answering questions of people who are enamored of their work.

Kent has insisted on keeping The Buckinghams in the Chicago area for such a long time, that the last time I saw them live was last year! OK, maybe it wasn’t JUST Kent, but certainly the Cornerstones of Rock Concerts have kept them occupied (and happy) for quite a stretch of time. The couple next to me is excited to be here, as you will see during this review. I point out to them the stage set-up and that the three mics in a front curve means that The Buckinghams are opening. They question me on why it can’t be The Grass Roots, but when I explain The Roots have two frontmen, they accept my explanation as being “very observant.”  That is just a flattering remark. Only a small bit of knowledge needed.

Well now! Chicago has been good to and for The Buckinghams. They hit the stage ALL smiling and musically strong. ‘Don’t You Care’ starts them off, followed by ‘Hey Baby, They’re Playing Our Song.’  Nick Fortuna relates a story most of us have experienced on attending high school reunions. There is always the talk about how much people have changed. This story has a comical twist and the man next to me states, “That was very cute.”  

Dave Zane hits the vocals heavily with ‘I Go Crazy’ and Carl Giammarese takes back the lead with ‘Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.’  Nick’s comedic mood continues with his Ed Sullivan impersonation. They are facing the opposite direction on the musical turn-table stage, and he vocally projects a very credible Sullivan tonight. The side of the venue that faces them is full of laughter and movement that shows they think it’s hilarious to watch.  

‘Susan,’ the last hit of The Bucks, is followed by the first hit of The Bucks, ‘Kind of a Drag.’  This is also their final song tonight. So short! So rich with hits! So good musically! A final reaction from the man next to me, “They have personality.”

“Here is the reason I am here,” the man next to me states as The Grass Roots take the stage. The audience around me is showing appreciation and joy as ‘Wait A Million Years’ begins. The next song may not have been as big a hit, but ‘Heaven Knows’ is one of my favorites. When they first started playing, Dusty’s guitar sounded pretty loud. Then as the stage turned toward us, it was deafening. BUT the Westbury sound board operator is on the mark, and it is quickly put in league with the bass, keyboards and drums. Mark Dawson’s vocals have a strong but smooth texture as the melodies flow forward. ‘Sooner or Later’ and the crowd is clapping and singing along. Actually we take over the chorus and The Roots sit back and listen to us. (That can’t be fun!)

Before they begin ‘Let’s Live For Today,’ Dusty and Mark talk about our Veterans, honing in on Vietnam. Isn’t it a beautiful trait that so many 60’s groups have included a remembrance to Veterans which recognizes the service and the loneliness of these soldiers coming home to silence or even degradation, and corrects a period of history that shames me in the way these Veterans were treated. I never knew the welcome-back of previous wars, but I felt an awkward silence around the return of Vietnam Vets. Something that just wasn’t right. I am so proud of the musicians that are strong and continue to bring this omission of gratitude into a light of correction.

It is so fitting that the next song is The Grass Roots’ first hit, ‘Where Were You When I Needed You.’  Indeed! And if you are wondering when they will perform ‘Temptation Eyes,’ it is now! The chorus rolls around the audience as we all sing as though we are cruising in our cars with our friends belting out our fave songs with the radio. Whew!  Attending a concert can be exhausting. “They sound just like they did when they started at the beginning,” says the man next to me. OH-OH!! Educator mode is kicking in. 

I am immersed in ‘Midnight Confessions’ but I am forming my words into sentences of explanation and reason as we stand to thank The Grass Roots. It’s ok, everyone. This turns out well for all. 

Me: “They are great, but none of the performers you just watched were in the original Grass Roots.”

Now comes an explanation of the studio band beginnings, the need to form a standard membership called The Grass Roots, and the passing of Rob Grill after other members had left the group.

“Given what I have just told you, this is why I support this group …  

1.    Each of these musicians performed with Rob Grill as The Grass Roots  

2.    Rob Grill hand selected them to carry on the legacy 

3.    The biggest thing a musician has to pass on to his friends, family, and fans is his music 

4.    I want The Grass Roots’ music to continue to be performed live and to acquire new followers at each concert 

5.    They are SO GOOD performing together as The Grass Roots

Him: “Oh wow ... I am speechless.” 

His girlfriend: “Oh, THANK YOU! You finally shut him up!” 

OK, Kent, here it comes - Herman’s Hermits starring Peter Noone.

Oh come on! I cut my review teeth on this group. I can’t stop now!  Hopefully, I am even getting just a little bit better writing. 

Hey, something is really wrong. I have been talking to my concert neighbors and did not notice till now. The rotating stage is totally bare except for a mic and stand. The Hermits are organizing their instruments in the pit area. I hadn’t realized that the stage crew was removing instruments, but NOT replacing them to Hermit mode. All this time, their instruments lay resting in the pit area waiting for their owners’ arrival to plug them in and check them. HOW IS THIS EVER GOING TO WORK?

“Humph! I’ve never seen this,” I hear mumbled next to me. The lights dim.  

‘Vindaloo’ begins and the Hermits jump on the stage from the pit to once again lead a Westbury crowd to their feet to welcome the Manchester, England, native: Peter Noone. They quickly jump back into the pit and begin the opening strains of ‘Into Something Good’ while Peter runs down the entry ramp, onto the turntable stage, grabs the mic off the stand, and begins to fill every inch of that stage with dancing, running, jumping and other frenzied actions of joy for song and music. So, for me tonight, the song line-up is not really the focus. All the songs will be great, but how will Peter Noone interact with his audience AND his Hermits in this unusual setting? ‘Wonderful World,’ ‘Love Potion #9’ and ‘Dandy’ has him filling the magic circle with a lively mix of showmanship that immediately brings the audience in as always; singing along, clapping, smiling. And here is the twist! The Hermits are seeing this show for the first time as we, the audience see it … from the front!

I watch them giggling, no actual outbursts of laughter, as they see the facial expressions combined with burlesque-style movements just as a first-time concert attendee would. When Peter gets to ‘Folsom Prison Blues,’ a hidden harmonica emerges from behind a stage amp. When he announces ‘Sea Cruise,’ Peter runs into the pit to interact with Rich at the keyboards as we are used to seeing. He returned to the pit when ‘Just A Little Bit Better’ was performed to enjoy and react to Vance and Billy’s kicks. He is alone on stage for ‘Silhouettes,’ ‘Listen People’ (that one had to be a bit scary, frozen at the mic stand, spotlight beating down), ‘Traveling Light’ and ‘No Milk Today.’  The audience is loving the closeness of The Hermits on the opposite side of the stage. The stage still turns, but Peter has never waited to move with it. He continues to move against it in one direction or faster than it turns in the other direction. 

“The next song is my favorite Herman’s Hermits song: It’s ‘The End of The World.’  I hope you enjoy it.” (Enjoy the end of the world? Probably not!)

“He’s adorable,” says  the woman on my left. I think I quoted that same remark from another show this summer. So, the strange stage setting has not interfered with that feeling. “Oh, that’s cute,” adds the man on my right. “Oh, he’s in a class by himself.” So this is going very well.

Billy Sullivan is invited on stage to dance the jig with Peter during ‘Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat’ and just as the last note on ‘Mrs. Brown’ is heard, three Hermits storm the stage armed with guitars, and an intense guitar intro brings forth ‘Henry the Eighth.’  As quickly as they appeared, The Hermits retreat to the pit and the concert goes on … till it ends. 

I gave much thought to the reasoning behind the new staging at Westbury. It is probably the result of the congestion caused by three sets of band equipment stacked like a gypsy caravan onstage and the danger it causes to performers trying their best to entertain the arena of fans. It most definitely creates an electric jungle.  

HOWEVER, I am choosing to believe a different reason.  

They changed it up to challenge me in my writing. That’s MY story, and I’m sticking to it.
Shelley J Sweet-Tufano  

This trio of artists has been putting on these '60's Spectacular shows together for about 25 years now.  What a GREAT way to cap off the summer.  Thanks for sharing with us, Shelley.  

(And by the way, we’ll lose The Buckinghams for a good chunk of the summer next year because they’re back on the Happy Together Tour for, I believe, the fifth time!)  Before that, however, they're doing a couple more Cornerstones shows here in Chicago in November ... and then head off to the high seas again for another Concerts At Sea Music Cruise during the month of February ... not a bad time to be outside The Windy City!!! 

Meanwhile, Herman’s Hermits starring Peter Noone returns to The Arcada Theatre on June 9thof next year, after an extended tour of The UK. 

And locals on the list can catch The Grass Roots next month at The Genesee Theatre when they open for Tommy James and the Shondells on November 17th!  (kk)