The Cowsills performing at the Cuttin Room. May Pang
It would be hard to top The Cowsills’ 50th anniversary performance Saturday night at New York’s Cutting Room as a true rock ‘n’ roll triumph.
The 1960s family vocal group, critically underappreciated for its wholesome pop sound and look, was hardly the fairy tale of its appearance, what with a horribly abusive father and the tragedy that followed their short-lived hitmaking career: Brothers Bill and Barry and mother Barbara are deceased--Barry perished in Hurricane Katrina--as is Bob’s twin brother Richard, the band’s road manager. But surviving members Paul and Bob and everyone’s sister Susan (brother John is drummer for the Beach Boys) deliver a show so wonderfully entertaining and on pitch that Susan’s announcement of a new Cowsill’s recording to commence in January is something to feel very good about, that and their inclusion in this year’s Happy Together Tour.
As Paul put it, “We’re 50 years alive,” which on the strength of this show, was quite the understatement. They started out chronologically with the pre-Susan first singles “All I Really Want to Be is Me” and “Most of All,” both of which flopped, Susan said, “because I wasn’t in the band yet!”
The group’s 1967 breakthrough hit “The Rain, the Park & Other Things”—which featured Barbara on the original—followed, and then it was a mix of lesser known Cowsills songs—both group and individual—and “songs from our era,” as Susan called such entries as Sopwith Camel’s “Hello, Hello” (Susan sang a verse), We Five’s “You Were On My Mind,” a verse from Left Banke’s “Walk Away Renée,” Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Boxer,” bits of The Rascals’ “How Can I Be Sure” and “I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore” (that band’s Gene Cornish was in the house), “Puff the Magic Dragon,” and Crosby, Stills & Nash’s “Helplessly Helping.”
Everything sounded just fabulous; indeed, Susan, on “Be My Baby,” did both Phil and Ronnie Spector proud. A piece of “When I’m 64” made sense since The Cowsill kids are now thereabouts (“You know you’re an oldies band when you start speaking about medical things,” joked Paul, among them the need for both oxygen and a porta potty off to the side of the stage)—though they also boast of still singing in the same keys. And “If I Had a Hammer” was made especially poignant when Susan pointed to her brothers when singing “I’d hammer about the love between my brothers nad my sisters.”
Yet even more moving was the use of “Knockin On Heaven’s Door” as a tribute to the fallen Cowsills--though they’re being “kept alive through their music,” Susan said, and the family further extends by the backup band consisting of Paul’s son Brendon Cowsill on guitar an vocals, Bob’s son Ryan Cowsill on keyboards, Susan’s husband Russ Broussard on drums and family friend Robby Scharf on bass (Bob also played acoustic guitar).
The set also included Cowsills hits “Poor Baby,” the “Love American Style” TV theme, and their big 1968 hit “Indian Lake,” which was Susan’s debut hit with the group, having just turned nine when it reached the Top 10. And in a bit of turn-about, fair-play, they performed “I Think I Love You,” the 1970 chart-topper from The Partridge Family—the pop group lifted from the TV series based on The Cowsills and starring Susan Dey as the little sister and David Cassidy as the lead singer brother.
Paul noted how The Cowsills had been turned down for the show, as they weren’t actors. Yet here they were, still performing, unlike the fictional version of themselves. So they sang the Partridge’s biggest hit as “an homage,” Paul noting how he’d had a crush on Dey, Susan confessing her “creepy” crush on the then teen idol who played her brother.
They ended with their biggest hit “Hair,” which reached No. 2 in 1969, Susan trying to cheer up balding brother John. The band then cheered up a big portion of the SRO crowd by merrily meeting, greeting and signing for well over an hour after.