LIVE: “Sixties Spectacular” @ Proctors, 3/24/12

Ronnie Spector

Ronnie Spector

Review by Steve Nover
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk

When I go to a concert I don’t often get too philosophical, but the recent “Sixties Spectacular” show at Proctors got me thinking about happiness and how expectations can interfere with enjoyment. The show featured four acts, and I was most excited about Ronnie Spector, whom I had never seen before and for whom I had great expectations, as Dickens would say.

Looking great and surprisingly sexy at 68, Ronnie still has a strong voice, but I was a little disappointed with her stage mannerisms that became redundant; lifting one side of her short jacket flirtatiously many times during a song throughout her set became annoying and distracting. It was still a thrill to hear the Ronnettes’ songs she performed – “Baby, I Love You,” “Walking in the Rain” and “Be My Baby” – though the sound mix could have been better. Ms Spector had the largest band of the night with four horns, two keyboards, two female back-up singers in addition to the basic guitar-bass-and-drums, but she mostly transcended the music the way one can’t take their eyes off a great actor in a play or movie.

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She also performed “I Can Hear Music” (she and Brian Wilson have something of a mutual admiration society going), as well as “The Chapel of Love” by another girl group, the Dixie Cups. The Ronettes’ hits were all in a 14-month period in ’63 & ’64, and her marriage to her producer Phil (her maiden name is Bennett) from ’68-’74 would be an unbelievable turn of events. But it was great to have her back, and the crowd responded with a standing ovation, as with the other three performers.

Preceding Ronnie to open the show was Gary U.S. Bonds who was laid back (as you might expect for a man of 72), but he still delivered the goods (as you might not expect). Performing with a guitar trio, a keyboardist and a wailin’ Tenor sax (the key to his sound), he offered his biggest hits from ’60 &’61 (“New Orleans,” “Quarter to Three”), as well as a pair of songs written for him for his early-’80s comeback – Little Steven Van Zant’s “Daddy’s Come Home” and Springsteen’s “Out of Work,” followed by Bruce’s “This Little Girl.” Gary’s formula was simple; a sax solo on almost every song with no other solos and background vocals from two women, his wife and daughter. I had seen him once before and without expectations, Bonds proved to be a good opener.

B.J. Thomas was next, and he was the one I was least looking forward to. But he turned out to be the biggest surprise of the night. With a guitar trio and keyboardist, he started slow with songs the large, older crowd ate up, but I didn’t care for. But a little before the middle of his 50-minute set, he threw in some curve balls and gained my attention – the Temptations’ “Just My Imagination” (featuring his only falsetto vocals of the night), the Beach Boys’ “Don’t Worry Baby” (Thomas’ last Top 20 hit on the pop charts in ’77) and “Suspicious Minds.” Turning 70 this year, Mr. Thomas still has a great voice, even if it’s not my thing, and he showed the advantage of no expectations. His band, the smallest of the night, deserve kudos, and it was no surprise when he informed the audience that the drummer and keyboardist have been with him for 31 & 36 years, respectively.

Closing the show after the first intermission (radio DJs talked during relatively short set changes), the Turtles deserved to be the headliners, even if the crowd didn’t respond to them as they should have. I was excited to see them for two main reasons: 1.) I was a fan of their pop songs, especially “Happy Together,” and 2.) I’m a huge Zappa fan and had seen them with Frank as Flo & Eddie during the time when they were legally barred from performing as the Turtles between (’70-’83).

Their set was a cross between performance art, comedy, anarchy and rock & roll. They came out to Lady Gaga’s music and asked what happened to the music, proceding to take us on roller coater of the ’60s pop culture that caused big smiles on the faces of those who appreciated what they were about. Their show was filled with hits like “You Baby,” “She’s My Girl,” “Elenore,” “She’d Rather Be With Me” and, of course, “Happy Together,” which sold three million singles and hit No. 1 on the charts 45 years ago.

They performed their first hit “It Ain’t Me, Babe” by Dylan and their last Top 10 hit ’69’s “You Showed Me” written by Gene Clark and Jim (or Roger, if you prefer) McGuinn of the Byrds in ’64. The song set a gigantic legal precedent when De La Soul sampled it without permission in ’89, and the Turtles won a large settlement, which heralded the requirement of clearance of samples. Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan still have good voices and great comic timing; over the years, they’ve added their voices to sessions by T. Rex, Alice Cooper, Blondie, Psychedelic Furs, John Lennon, the Ramones and Springsteen.

Bruce was one of the people parodied to great effect along with the Doors, the Cars, “Car 54, Where Are You?,” Ronnie Spector and even the show’s promoter (when they mentioned they’d be touring this summer but not the night of the Duprees at Proctors). They paid homage to Zappa singing the instrumental “Peaches en Regalia” but turned quite serious about the sacrifices of veterans and the money the Turtles continue to raise for them; they asked the veterans in attendance to stand up and be acknowledged.

All in all, it was a fabulous end to a night that no expectations could have lived up to. This might not be my top concert of the year, but the Turtles touched so many emotions in one surreal hour that it will make the list.

SECOND OPINIONS:
Greg Haymes’ review at The Times Union

GARY U.S. BONDS SET LIST
New Orleans
Twist Twist Senora > School Is Out > Dear Lady Twist
Daddy’s Come Home (Little Steven Van Zandt)
Out of Work (Bruce Springsteen)
This Little Girl (Bruce Springsteen)
Quarter to Three

RONNIE SPECTOR SET LIST
Baby, I Love You
Time Is On My Side
Do I Love You?
So Young
Chapel of Love (the Dixie Cups)
Walking in the Rain
(The Best Part of) Breakin’ Up
Be My Baby
ENCORE
I Can Hear Music

B.J. THOMAS SET LIST
The Eyes of a New York Woman
Rock & Roll Lullaby
I Just Can’t Help Believin’
Hooked On a Feeling
(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song
I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry
Don’t Worry Baby (Beach Boys)
To Be Loved – a cappella (Jackie Wilson)
Just My Imagination (Temptations)
Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head
Suspicious Minds (Elvis Presley) > Can’t Turn You Loose (Otis Redding)

THE TURTLES
Bad Romance (Lady Gaga) > She’d Rather Be With Me
You Baby
It Ain’t Me, Babe (Bob Dylan)
She’s My Girl
Eve of Destruction (Barry McGuire)
Gas Money
Jungleland (Bruce Springsteen) > The Pied Piper (Crispian St. Peters) > Car 54, Where Are You?
Riders On the Storm (the Doors) > You Showed Me
Just What I Needed (the Cars)
Peaches en Regalia (Frank Zappa) > Elenore
Happy Together

Howard Kaylan of The Turtles

Howard Kaylan of The Turtles

Mark Volman of The Turtles

Mark Volman of The Turtles

Gary U.S. Bonds

Gary U.S. Bonds

B.J. Thomas

B.J. Thomas

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