These performers played with an infectious enthusiasm – they seemed happy – and it was surprising how fresh they sounded on almost every tune of the night.
HYANNIS – The “Happy Together” tour really lives up to its name.
The show, featuring six pop acts that were hugely popular in the ’60s and ’70s (mostly ’60s), stopped off Wednesday night at the Cape Cod Melody Tent. And if you thought you were in for a lineup of geezers (plus one woman, Susan Cowsill, a youngster at 59) just croaking out tired oldies to squeeze out a few bucks for their retirements, you were dead wrong. OK, maybe not wrong about the padding the retirement fund part, but these performers played with an infectious enthusiasm – they seemed happy – and it was surprising how fresh they sounded on almost every tune of the night. Maybe practice does make (near) perfect.
The listed acts were, in reverse order, the Turtles, Chuck Negron (former singer of Three Dog Night), Gary Puckett & the Union Gap, the Association, Mark Lindsay (former lead singer of Paul Revere & the Raiders) and the Cowsills. All were backed by a solid four-piece band led by lead guitar whiz Godfrey Townsend. (One of the best moments I’ve ever witnessed on the Melody Tent stage was, years ago, seeing Townsend and Who bassist John Entwistle crank out “The Real Me” from “Quadrophenia”).
Actually, the headlining Turtles were really the Turtle, Mark Volman, whose partner, Howie Kaylan, is ailing and is replaced on this tour by Ron Dante of the Archies. And Puckett plays without the Union Gap. The Association and the Cowsills have half or fewer of the members that played during those bands’ heyday.
No matter. There were enough of the key members for each act that you never felt you were watching a cut-rate version.
The Cowsills – siblings Bob, Paul and Susan – opened the show, but they hardly seemed the typical opening act. In fact, right from the start, on their first hit, “The Rain, the Park & Other Things,” their harmonizing was so on the money (just like on the record!) and their patter before and after so amusing (as they talked over each other in the engaging way sibs sometimes do), that you wondered whether the show would peak too early.
Not to worry. After the Cowsills finished their five-song set with a rousing “Hair” (from the musical), Lindsay took the stage to knock out seven hits from the Raiders and his subsequent solo career. Highlights were the Raiders “Just Like Me,” “Good Thing” and, best of all, his finale, the early anti-drug rocker “Kicks.” Listening to these songs, you were reminded that, despite the gimmicky Revolutionary War uniforms they’d wear, the Raiders really could hold their own with the likes of the Animals or Mitch Ryder.
The show took a romantic turn with the Association, featuring original members Jules Alexander and Jim Yester and longtime singer-bassist Del Ramos (brother of earlier member Larry), which closed the first half with its four biggest hits, “Windy,” “Never My Love,” “Cherish” and the then-controversial, now-innocent “drug song” “Along Comes Mary” (Mary = marijuana!). As with the Cowsills, the band hasn’t lost its touch with harmonies.
After a half-hour intermission, Puckett, another guy who favored dressing up (he and the Union Gap were known to wear Civil War-style uniforms), opened the second half by letting loose with his more florid type of romantic songs: “Lady Willpower,” “Over You,” “This Girl Is a Woman Now,” “Woman, Woman” and “Young Girl” (with its somewhat concerning lyrics: “Young girl get out of my mind/My love for you is way out of line ...”).
Next up was Negron, who mentioned having lung issues, but you’d never know it from his five-song set. The crowd-pleaser was the set-ender, “Joy to the World” (not one of my favorites), but he also knocked out three of Three Dog Night’s best right in a row: “Mama Told Me (Not to Come)” (written by Randy Newman!), “Eli’s Coming” (written by Laura Nyro!) and “One” (written by Nilsson!).
Then Volman and Dante took the stage, with Dante taking over for Kaylan and doing a good job on lead vocals – though Kaylan’s familiar voice on the Turtles’ hits was still missed. (Volman and Kaylan, you might recall, also performed as Phlorescent Leech & Eddie, later shortened to Flo & Eddie. Volman is Flo.)
They performed seven songs, six from the Turtles and one from the Archies, that quintessential bubblegum hit, “Sugar, Sugar.” The Turtles had five top-10 hits, and all were included, including the Bob Dylan-penned “It Ain’t Me Babe” and “She’d Rather Be With Me,” with Volman banging on the cowbell. The best of the set was the tune with the slowest tempo, the haunting, beautiful “You Showed Me,” a song that makes you just want to close your eyes and sway to the music.
The set’s finale – no big surprise – was “Happy Together,” such a suitable title for a show in which the performers and the (mostly gray-haired) audience seemed to feed off each other’s exuberance. Volman then brought the previous performers back on the revolving stage, with each act performing a brief reprise of one of its hits, and everyone else happily joining in.
It was an uplifting celebration of the music and times of their youth – and of ours.