Thursday, February 10, 2011

The 60’s Music Legends Tour Featuring The Vogues, The Shades of Blue and Deke & the Blazers Live @ The State Theatre

I may be kicking a dead horse but oldies shows are usually a mixed bag of re-hashed hits performed in a lower key, executed in perfunctory manner with trite intros e.g., “This is for all the lovely ladies in the audience” or “ Raise your hands if you are in love”. How ‘bout, “Gag me with a spoon and make me like it.” Now don’t get me started ‘cos I’ve been to a few of these oldies packages and they all have one thing in common…THEY ALL SUCK! Screw those aged-out vocalists singing in an uncertain pitch who can’t sustain a note unless they’re straining at the stool. It’s our own fault …our longing to recapture a feeling in a time and place that no longer exists - in much the same way that the oldies bands try and fail to summon up the energy of their original performances. We look wistfully to our aging heroes for an answer or a validation that what we did and said and the music we listened to back then made a difference. Attending this show is like walking with your head down hoping to find some loose change. It’s hedging your bets against all odds that these old timers are not gonna put on a lollapalooza of a stinker. They move so… slow and they don’t have much rhythm or sex appeal. And their lips don’t move when they sing. My GOD they are the living dead, preying on the broken dreams and lost hopes of the aging baby boomers. Like Alex Chilton once told me, “its easy money.” And it’s also the loose musicianship and same old shit-night-after-night easy indifference that reminds us of our own comfortable slow down. Showtime is 7pm and you’re out by ten. Tomorrow will let you know. It’ll be a long day.

But this show was different, at least part of it. The two opening acts were so bad they couldn’t survive a drunken Fez-up, Fez-down Shriner’s Convention or even make the grade at a local Eagles Club during Hamburger Night - pretty lame stuff, even for a “60’s Music Legends Tour.”

But the Vogues were another story altogether. They soared toward a musical stratosphere that only few could aspire. Their magnificent harmonies were jaw dropping gorgeous, beyond ordinary…a thing of beauty. The show opened on a promising note with a spot on performance of their first big hit You're the One. The original lead singer of the Vogues Bill Burkette was in great voice and totally nailed this chestnut. It’s aged like a fine wine and so has Burkette. He proved in the very first song that he still had the chops to go the distance. He is a tall and lean and has a presence and demeanor reminiscent of a history professor. Quiet but thoughtful and rock steady…someone you can always count on.

Troy Elich offered a well-honed between song patter that bordered on humorous but was ultimately an unnecessary distraction - unless you like Pittsburg sports history and sidelong references to our very own and long suffering Detroit Lions. Hugh Geyer the original lead tenor of the Vogues did the intro to Earth Angel, noting that they actually sang with Clive Duncan of the Penguins, the group that made the song famous in the first place. The Vogues did it justice - the sound was powerful, the harmonies were perfect. These cats are in a whole different musical universe. Geyer sang the high harmony effortlessly. Incredible chops!

Burkett introduces the Mann/Weill chestnut Magic Town to enthusiastic applause. It is simply superb. Burkett is in the pocket with his honey-tinged baritone. He sings with a smile in his voice that offers a counterpoint to some of the disturbing lyrical flourishes in the song.

Troy appears to serve as a de-facto the spokesman for the group as he muses about the Vogues history – the 1965-66 hits, the downturn in ’67 and triumphant resurgence in 1968 with the easy listening sounds of Turn Around Look At Me. Elich defers to Hugh Geyer who tells the story of a buried track on the Turn Around Look at Me LP entitled It’s Getting Better. It ultimately became a monster hit for Mama Cass Elliot and an obscure piece of pop music trivia. Elich sings it in the spirit of its creators Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill with all the good humor and hidden adult references that sunshine music can offer. Viva the Ohio Express and the 1910 Fruitgum Company. Keep on chewing.

A dramatic reading of the cool romance song Till offers more adult themes. This is a stunning vocal workout. Lead tenor Hugh Geyer is magnificent. The BIG vocal flourish at the end of the song left me breathless. The jazzed-up Greensleeves ended the first half of the show. This is how great harmony groups like the Vogues can be. It is becoming a lost art that should not be forgotten. There is a place for this beautiful music.

At this point in the show Troy introduces his father Stan Elich. He explains that Stan has been convalescing for several months and was in a coma for seven straight weeks. The elder Elich bolts up to the stage and mumbles “ if you don’t like the band don’t blame it on me.” Stan takes charge of the stage and does the intro for My Special Angel…a sonic wonder with incredible harmonies. I notice a slight dip in the collective energy of the group once Elich harnessed control of the stage. Burkett’s stolid presence matches Geyer’s quiet dignity and they carry forward without protest. They are a class act. Elich introduces the Lee Greenwood song God Bless the USA, a song about patriotism, that is at once both cloying and calculated. Greenwood may believe all the blather in his song but he also knows an easy mark when he sees one. Here’s a song that is unpatriotic not to like. Buy it or else…love it or leave it. From my perch this was the true hands down/arms up nadir of the show – the adoring audience gave it a standing ovation. Go figure. This is followed by a comic reading of the Green Beret and Soldier Boy just to soften the blow. Geyer gets into a rap about 9-11 and flying the American flag.

Geyer salvages the night with the introduction to Turn Around Look at Me – a GREAT song. Geyer reveals that legendary session drummer Hal Blaine played on most of the Vogues songs and that it was Blaine that came up with that rumbling drum riff that opened the song.

Bill Burkett tells the story of one of their most beloved songs from 1965. The Beatles clichéd the #1 and # 2 spots in the Top Ten refusing to budge for Five O’ Clock World. Burkett moans “And we never got paid for it”, to which Geyer replies, “I did.” Burkett fires back, “There we go again.” It seems old wounds do heal from bringing it back to the surface and joking around about it. It is a way of making it smaller and gaining perspective…humor afloat in a deep current of memories. It is a captivating hold-your-breath performance and the highlight of the show. Five O’ Clock World is the perfect closer. Burkett’s keening and nuanced vocal about keeping hope alive while living hand to mouth is nothing short of astonishing. The sonic layers in the song include a minor chord undercurrent and working-on-the-chain-gang grunts that punctuate the work-a-day toil and industrial blight of the town. It could be about Pennsylvania or Detroit or any other American city that sold its soul to the devil. The singer holds on to the image of a long-haired girl that helps him go on “when every other reason is gone.” Burkette makes us believe that somehow he’s gonna beat the odds and carve out a life worth living. This is an uncommon slice of reality for a pop song. But its sentiments are genuine. The song is an undeclared masterpiece.

A brief refrain of You’re the One segues to a finale featuring all three vocal groups on the 1954 hit by the Spaniels Goodnight Sweetheart. Nice.

For me this was a dream come true. Bill Burkette and the Vogues. Yes

Bo White

No comments:

Post a Comment