4.3.08 Gary, Flo, and Herm
Gary Puckett, The Turtles, Hermans Hermits
Proctors Theater, Schenectady
Yeah, I know, I know. But I’m a sucker for these shows. Why? Partly flat out nostalgia—this was the music in my ear when I was a little kid. Another part of it is kind of like why we watch American Idol—to see who gets out with their dignity intact and who’s a train wreck. Then there’s the fact that the audience at these shows makes me feel young, a rarity of late.
My expectations weren’t real high for 2/3 of this show. 20 years ago I went to a couple nostalgia shows at SPAC and was mighty impressed with Gary Puckett, who sang circles around his laughable, melodramatic repertoire. He projected swarminess and trouble back then, maybe because he was trapped by his hits, maybe just haunted with show-biz demons. It was a different guy at Proctors Saturday, healthy, confident, looking WAY too much like Johnny Rabb, and still in great voice, although he’s developed this warbly vibrato in his lower register. Puckett’s still trapped by those goofy old hits, and the show (he was backed by an uber-loungey three piece band) had the distinct whiff of cheese throughout. The difference now is that he seems to have come to terms with it all, and good for him. One can only wonder, though, what could have been if he’d had better management, made better choices, etc. Dude’s got voice.
You know that Flo and Eddie wouldn’t disappoint, and they didn’t. Screamingly funny, direct, loose, honest, and profane, The Turtles show was a howl at the specter of aging, interspersed with their poppy hits. I last saw them 20 years ago (at the old baseball park by the airport) when the show was a howl at the specter of child-raising, and was every bit as hysterical and inspirational. The band, of course, was deadly, with long-time drummer Joe Stefko driving the band through Zappa-esque changes and color supplied by The Cars’ Greg Hawkes on keyboards. There were a couple times where the gonzo nature of the show seemed to sail over the heads of the predominantly working- class crowd, but the wildest antics were at least tolerated with a smile and a shrug. And of course “Happy Together” got everybody, at least everybody who could stand in the jam-packed house, on their feet.
For me the wild card of the night was going to be Peter Noone, whom I last saw 30 freaking years ago with his band The Tremblers at the Hullaballo (!!!) with Real Danger opening! Beat that! I was expecting...well, I dunno what I was expecting, not much, really. But the guy, who still looks about 35, was just brilliant, with a bizarre and deadly sense of comedic timing, and a Will Ferrell-like willingness to do anything for a laugh. And much of what he did was off-the-cuff improv, riffing endlessly on the word “Schenectady,” absurdly impersonating Tom Jones, Michael Jackson, and Johnny Rotten, and taking countless shots at The Turtles (he consoled a young girl in the audience by telling her that his mum had forced him to go to a Turtles concert when he as a young boy, too). Much of the crowd, myself included, were in tears for much of the show. And Noone sang all the hits great, backed by a real rock band led by hyper-kinetic guitarist Vance Brescia, whom Noone would walk over and kick in the ass from time to time for no apparent reason. Improbably and delightfully, the musical highlight of the evening was when Noone and Brescia sat down at the end of the long (3 ½ hour) show and did a quiet, small version of “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter”. Amid all the chaos, it was jarringly perfect.