Saturday evening, Barb and I went to see this year’s edition of the Happy Together Tour, mounted as always by Flo and Eddie of the Turtles. The acts on the bill were the Buckinghams, the Cowsills, the Grass Roots, the Association, Mark Lindsay, and of course the Turtles. My band the Daybreakers opened for the Buckinghams in the late ‘60s, and my ongoing band, Crusin’, opened for the Grass Roots and Turtles twice. So I was really curious and pumped to see the concert.
The Association were the big draw for Barb and me, because they were a shared favorite band going back to the earliest days of our going together. We’ve seen them over the years in concert probably six or seven times.
The show was a good one, the format including a top-notch band that travels with the tour and backs up two or three members of the original groups. This works out better in some cases than others. The Buckinghams had two original members but not the distinctive lead singer, Dennis Tufano. Of course, what I remember vividly when we played with the Buckinghams was how skillfully the keyboard player could mimic Tufano’s voice.
The venue, at Riverside Casino (in Riverside, Iowa, eventual birthplace of James T. Kirk), was at times not helpful. The casino/resort is most impressive, and Crusin’ has played their lounge four times, and that’s a wonderful venue. But concerts are held in an “event center” (i.e., ballroom) and not a theater, so you’re in chairs close together on one level (the size of most Baby Boomers makes that a real drawback). The acoustics were, shall we say, problematic. The Buckinghams, opening the concert, first, delivered vocals barely heard.
Later, the Grass Roots – minus late lead singer, Rob Grill – suffered similar vocal problems, specifically a lead singer difficult to hear who was not really the band’s lead singer.
The Association, represented by three members (two of them Jim Yester and Jules Alexander, both founding members and incredible talents), did well, in part thanks to the vocal skills of their back-up band. But even they suffered because most of their big hits were sung by Russ Giguere, who has apparently retired from touring.
Still, the show was very entertaining and fast-moving, with scant time between “bands” (really, just bringing out the two or three original members of each group, sharing the tour band), with everybody limited to five songs. And that meant the really big hits.
Very strong was Mark Lindsay, doing mostly Paul Revere stuff (“Kicks” was outstanding), still handsome, energetic, a real rock star prowling the stage. And of course the Turtles were wonderful, if at times too hip for the room. They are extremely loose and funny and off-the-wall, and yet still touch the required bases of their hits.
I got to know Flo and Eddie – Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan – a little bit when we opened for them in what must have been an early version of their Happy Together tour that included Crusin’ on the Moline, Illinois, bill. We shared a green room (a tent – it was an outdoor concert) with them, and both were friendly and down-to-earth. When they learned I was the writer of DICK TRACY – this was around 1986, I’m guessing – both were impressed. Mark called me a few times to discuss the possibility of us doing a mystery novel together, but it never went anywhere. I doubt he remembers me.
My group of poker-playing guys in high school loved the Turtles, loved their first album – they were a scruffier rock group pre-“Happy Together,” with “It Ain’t Me Babe” and “Let Me Be.” But we always wondered, seeing the group lip sync on “Where the Action Is” and other such shows, what the hell Volman’s function was. He was just this curly-haired pudgy guy who played tambourine. What was that about?
Then, around 1967, I saw them in concert. Good lord, Volman was the best showman I ever saw on a rock stage, bounding around, doing crazy tricks with his tambourine, and singing perfect harmony with Kaylan in a voice that mirrored the lead singer. Like the Buckinghams, the Turtles made use of vocal similarity to great effect.
But Volman’s function appeared to be to disguise the stiffness of great singer Kaylan, who just stood there, as if frozen with stage fright. So back in ‘67, I went in wondering why they kept the apparently useless Volman around, and came out realizing he was one of the two essential members – as the continued partnership of Volman and Kaylan demonstrates.
And over the years Kaylan has turned into just as loose and wild an entertainer as Volman, the opposite of stiff. I appreciate the way they taunt and to a degree make fun of an audience, which was always the style of Crusin’, although not everyone appreciates that.
But the real surprise was the Cowsills.
I never really cared for them. I knew they sang and played well, but the whole family-as-a-rock-act-that-included-mom-and-a-seven-year-old-sister thing turned my rock and roller’s stomach, as I’m sure it did many other such stomachs. The group inspired the Partridge Family (“inspired” being a euphemism for “got screwed over by the creators and producers of”) and after four or five monster hits, dropped off the charts and eventually disbanded.
When I told Barb about this concert, the one downside was that the Cowsills were on the bill. We both made superior-human “yucchs” from the very start. Now here’s the punchline.
Bob, Paul and Susan Cowsill were the outstanding act of the night. Even the poor acoustics didn’t touch them. Their vocals were loud and strong and as beautifully harmonic as Abba at its best, only punchy. They were funny and fluid and had a wonderful time. I went in a detractor and came out a Cowsills fan.
(My Turtles and Cowsills stories demonstrate just how much you can change your mind about a rock act when you’ve seen them in concert. It can also work in the reverse, lowering you opinion drastically.)
At the merch table (isn’t “merch” a shitty slang word?) I bought a DVD of the documentary on the Cowsills, which I’d heard was good. Additionally, it was signed by the band, and I am a sucker for signed stuff. I watched it last night and it’s excellent. Spoiler alert: their Dad was an evil asshole.
Seeing what a rough ride these kids from a seemingly idyllic background suffered over the decades made it even more impressive that the two Cowsills brothers and their sister delivered such an energetic, joyful performance. It indicated the healing powers of rock ‘n’ roll. It may be temporary healing, lasting only as long as a gig lasts, but we’ll take what we can get.
Today I hope to write the final chapter of the new Mike Hammer, DON’T LOOK BEHIND YOU.
In the meantime, check out some interesting stuff on the Net pertaining to my favorite subject (me).
I am honored and thrilled that J. Kingston Pierce, among the best and most important reviewers in contemporary mystery fiction, has singled out Nate Heller as his favorite character. Check it out here.