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Happily Untogether. Or, Ah, PUCKETT.

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I have a friend who collects vinyl. No, he’s not a plastics bondage freak, I mean vinyl records, old LPs.

What would be the garage of his house is a reliquary of forgotten, unwanted, and in some cases spectacular discs from the ’60s.  By the way, I have an admission: I was more than happy when records became CDs –  I don’t hear all that much difference (other than the lack of hisses and pops and the occasional embarrassing guitar part that wasn’t heard in the original mastering), and although I own a turntable I drag its dinosaur bones out on the rarest of circumstances.
When my friend proudly displays his latest find, my response is usually “Cool picture,” or perhaps “Wow!  The Brits really did have bad teeth!”  When said friend turned me on to Air Vinyl, an admittedly great app developed by Air Studios which plays your mp3s and somehow makes them sound like– well, vinyl, I downloaded it and have used it.  Once or twice.

So when my LP-hound buddy has hocked me to come with him and his wife to catch an “Oldies Show” at Chumash Casino – a genre of concert I fondly refer to as the One Foot In The Grave Tour – I have resisted, and easily.

The only thing more depressing than watching the March Of Time distort my face in the morning mirror is seeing our once-proud warriors of the True Music creep out on stage and bleat their hits in between hits of oxygen.

But the timing was right when he told me about the latest show at the Chumash Theater: “The Happy Together Tour:”  The Turtles, Micky Dolenz, Gary Puckett, The Grass Roots, and The Buckinghams. My first reaction was “5 acts? I’ll be up way past my bedtime!” And yes, that is an issue for me these days, so get in your broken-down ex-rocker jokes here.
My friend assured me that they trot on, do their 5 hits or so, and trot off. That in itself disappointed me: I’d much rather see the Buckinghams do I’m In Love Again than Kind Of A Drag.  But I knew the Turts would put on a great show (boy was I not wrong), and I wouldn’t mind seeing the Bucks or the Roots either.  However…
If you’re like me, there was a name in there that sent out big fat red flags:  a man destined by that name and his singing style to incur endless dirty puns for him and his band.  (But we’ll get to him in due course.)
* The Oldies Show Begins *
So:  I’m in the audience, fixing my stare straight ahead on the stage.  [SAFETY TIP: WHEN AT AN OLDIES CONCERT, DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES LOOK AT YOUR CONTEMPORARIES – THE OTHER MEMBERS OF THE CROWD. IT WILL CRUSH YOUR PSYCHE LIKE JUAN URIBE COMING UP WITH THE GAME ON THE LINE AND A MAN ON THIRD.]

And, with an expediency that would be the envy of all rock-show crews if they gave a damn about this kind of thing, the unseen MC (who turned out to be a recorded Shadoe Stevens) announced the beginning of the show in a scripted spiel that was professional and appropriately showbiz-zy.  He sang the praises of the opening act, and we enthusiastically welcomed on stage the Buckinghams (well, two Buckinghams and the excellent backing band that was to be shared by all acts).
* The Buckinghams *
The lead singer is still with us, as was the guy playing bass. Happily, said guy turned out to be that second, gruffer lead singer that the Bucks had. As such, Mercy Mercy Mercy came off very well indeed.
As in all sets, the band ably supported with background vocals and representing all original instrumental parts, except with a bit more juice as called for.  The keyboard player, in particular, impressed me with his multi-tasking.  Along with the Farfisa organ and piano, he was also responsible for the horn section, while singing in-tune “aah”s.  The drummer was one of those big blond guys with boundless energy (played for two hours without break, remember) and even an accurate (and in some cases quite necessary) high harmony.  The guitarist (God bless him) even looked the part: i.e., about as old as the acts.

The Buckinghams: Young at heart.

The two Bucks told an amusing anecdote about being on the Smothers Brothers and being mistaken for Brits (I looked closely and their teeth seemed fine). The bass player/singer then introduced a song – I think it was Susan – that didn’t, like their others, chart top-10. He mentioned the modest number, 39 or some such, and then in humorous faux umbrage, challenged the audience “Hey, any of you have a Top Ten hit?!”  My friends are dragging on my arms, trying to get me to stand up.  I demurred, falling back on my lifelong personal philosophy: “Why spoil their fun?”  The Buckinghams were great, I liked them.
* The Grass Roots *
Shadoe Stevens (or more accurately his digital shadoe) now introduces The Grass Roots (same backing band means no breaking down and setting up between acts: what a concept!).  Sadly, there is only one Root still with us, and he’s playing guitar and looking eerily like my buddy Jack Tempchin.  So, for the only time in the show, we have a band where even the lead singer isn’t the original. To be fair, the bassist taking the lead duties was a terrific singer, and I’m glad as hell he’s working.
And when I-Can’t-Remember-His-Name-Sue-Me-I’m-Old, the guitarist, sang his answer in Live For Today, he sounded strong, as opposed to emphysemic, which I’m always afraid of.  The thing is, though, he slammed overdriven guitar solos on seemingly all their songs, and those songs didn’t really have a lot of extended guitar solos.  He was good, got the crowd going: just a little incongruous, is all I’m saying.

Photo by Rick Glover

* Deep Breath.  Gary Puckett. *
We all took a deep breath, thought of our loved ones, and commended our souls to Whomever. For Shadoe is singing the praises of the impending act. And, before we have time to say “Union Crap!”, bounding on stage to riotous applause and oohs and aahs from the assembled matrons, is…Martin Short!  I mean, not literally the comic genius that is Martin Short, but…

…if Martin Short had grown a foot and chosen not to wear his Edgar Winter makeup when doing Jackie Rogers, Jr., you would have Gary Puckett.

I am not exaggerating. Every hand gesture, every bent-knee-sideways-Elvis-move, every torturous quaver of his vibrato, every syllable of self-congratulating patter:  if Marty Short did a Gary Puckett bit he wouldn’t have to change a thing.  It was uncanny.
The amazing thing was that 45 years after the original experience, one could sum up Gary Puckett in the same way: technically -admittedly impressive voice; personally – absolutely insufferable.  I hate to slag an artist in print, and the rest of the audience would tell you I’m totally full of shit.  But wow.
* Micky Dolenz *
Next up Micky Dolenz.  And he was great.  Just right.  Playing for laughs (how could the stoned-out cutup from the Monkees not go for the joke?), still hitting all those high, whining notes, being a consummate frontman…high marks all around.

Photo by Rick Glover; Beatle Fan Magazine

And when he sang Daydream Believer in tribute to Davy whilst the big screen ran photos of the little tyke, alongside Micky, there were few dry eyes in the house.  Which is saying something at an AARP meeting like this.  Also quite savvy: his opening number I’m Not Your Stepping Stone rocked, like a rock concert should, oldie or youngie.
As a matter of fact, I couldn’t help making the invidious comparison: how hard and well our oldtimers still rock compared to the piteous posers that take the stage in modern time.  It helps, I suppose, when you actually have SONGS.  As to Stepping Stone, I think the guitarist (who I imagine is Micky’s regular backup guy) was playing an overdriven line that is I think from an unsung cover version by Sixties Aussie band The Flies. Maybe I just noticed this line more in The Flies’ version.

“Mark Volman IS Lady Gaga” say all the critics. Photo: Rick Glover.

* The Turtles *
So, the time had come: the Turts. Howie and Mark – or Flo and Eddie if you prefer – came on stage dressed as, and singing along with, Lady Gaga.  They wake up out of the bad dream, and Howard intones “What have they done to our music?!” And then they launch into She’d Rather Be With Me, and everything is so cool.

They sing great, the band’s great, the songs are great, their schtick is funny and hip and great…and all of a sudden I realize “Omigod! It’s true! We are!  We’re happy together!”

Photo by Rick Glover

Remember when music and musicians did that? Isn’t it godawful amazing that they still can? I’ll never make fun of an oldies act again for the rest of my life.
I’m just glad I got my shots in at Gary Puckett while I had the chance.

Berton Averre, among other things, was a founding member of The Knack.

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