The Happy Together 2013 Tour: An Irreverent Review

The Happy Together Tour 2013 (hereinafter referred to as “THTT13”) bopped into Midland’s Wagner-Noël Performing Arts Center last Wednesday evening. This was one of only three stops in Texas for the show, the others being Austin (of course) and Stafford (say wha?…if you have to google Stafford to find out where it is, don’t feel bad; I did too).

This show has been around sporadically since 1984, with varying participants – undoubtedly determined by who had best recuperated from hip replacement surgery – all of whom were popular musical groups in the 60s and early 70s. This year’s incarnation included, in order of appearance: Gary Lewis (frontman of The Playboys); Mark Lindsay (lead vocalist of the awkwardly-named Paul Revere and the Raiders featuring Mark what’s-his-face); Gary Puckett (lead singer of the Union Gap); Chuck Negron (the Three Dog Night guy who hit the high notes, and, unfortunately, rode the White Horse); and Flo and Eddie (aka Mark Voman and Howard Kaylan, founding members of the Turtles).
None of these guys were what I would call my musical idols, and I wouldn’t pay to attend a solo concert by any of them. But the idea of all of them on the same bill was intriguing, and so we sprang for mezzanine seats in the Winpac, which was filled to the rim with old people. You know, people like me. I saw very few people under the age of 40, and those probably either lost a bet or were there as caregivers.
Overall, THTT13 was worth the price of admission*. Here’s my quick takes on each performance. It’s worth noting that the common thread throughout all the acts was comfortable footwear.
  • Gary Lewis – Lewis was introduced as the guy who, in 1965, was selected as Cash Box Magazine’s Male Vocalist of the Year, beating out two mooks named Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley. After the first few notes of his set, I began to wonder whether the payola scandal of the Fifties had extended beyond that decade, and also whether our investment in two tickets for the evening was misguided. Fortunately, he eventually found the key (more or less), and, buoyed by a very skilled backup band, put on a winsome show, singing four or five of his group’s biggest hits. Of all the performers, he seemed to be the most appreciative of the audience, perhaps realizing that his skill wasn’t quite up to the standards of those following him on stage.
  • Mark Lindsay – Lindsay made an entrance twirling his trademark tricone hat on a forefinger and wearing a bathrobe. The Raiders were always a schlocky act, but they also had some big hit songs, and Lindsay’s vocal skill has not diminished with age (nor has his schlockiness). His mid-act pitch of his CD was appropriately self-deprecating, and went over well with the general demographic of the audience.
  • Gary Puckett – I was never a fan of the Union Gap, and Gary Puckett’s melodramatic singing style has become a parody of itself. Plus, he now resembles Ken Railings, that smarmy Aussie dancer in Strictly Ballroom. Here’s proof:
    Gary vs Ken

    Plus, have you listened to the lyrics of some of their songs lately? How creepy are these lines:

    Young girl, get out of my mind
    My love for you is way out of line
    Better run, girl…you’re much too young, girl.

    Perhaps the concept of statutory rape hadn’t been fully developed in the 60s. Regardless, even though he included a sincere and moving tribute to military veterans, his was my least favorite part of the show.

  • Chuck Negron – The members of Three Dog Night were notorious party animals, even before that term had been coined, and Chuck was the one guy on stage who looked like he’d been rode hard and put away wet. On the other hand, the fact that he’s kicked a heroin addiction and could still hit [most of] the notes was a testament to his determination and talent. He had a few funny lines, but was mostly business, and Jeremiah Was A Bullfrog was the crowd’s favorite song of the night.
  • Flo and Eddie – These guys are the common thread throughout the Happy Together tours, which should be obvious considering the name was taken from the biggest hit of the Turtles’ career. They wear the role well, and put on the most entertaining act of the night. They’ve always been known for combining silliness and music, and they manage to stay contemporary even while riding the hits of fifty years ago. Their entrance was to the music and video of Gangnam Style, complete with dance moves, but it ended with Eddie lamenting “what have they done to our music?!,” much to the delight and apparent agreement of the audience.

    They were and perhaps still are very musically creative and adventurous** – nobody joins Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention*** without having that bent…or being that bent. I suspect that they had a lot of influence on the musical arrangements for the tour, and their performance was rightly positioned as the climax of the evening. One of fun musical throwaways of their act was allowing each of the backup musicians – who were impressively talented in their own right – play a riff from a highly recognizable tune from the early rock era: the lead guitarist did the opening notes from Sunshine of Your Love, and the drummer rocked a bit of the classic drum solo from Inna Gadda Da Vida, and my possibly faulty recollection is that the keyboardist did the opening of Light My Fire – all of which blended seamlessly with Flo and Eddie’s original song.

After two hours of continuous music, all five acts reassembled for the finale – a rousing encore of Jeremiah – with the enthusiastic participation of the audience. Despite some occasional glitches – is the sound system at the Winpac really that bad, or is it the fault of the acts that appear there? – I saw nothing but smiling faces on the folks exiting the theater. Volumes could be written about the societal implications of the staying power of musical white bread, but do you really believe that people will still be lining up to hear Gangnam Style fifty years from today? If you get a chance to catch THTT13, there are worse ways to spend your time and money, especially if you’re tired of prancing Koreans.

*Enter the recurring outrage over the online purchase “convenience fee” that equalled 20% of the base price of the tickets. Seriously? That borders on shameful.

**I did not realize just how many well-known musicians these guys have appeared with or backed-up in the studio.

***The MOI’s “We’re Only In It For The Money” was one of the three first albums I purchased with my own money, the other two being the eponymous “Chicago” and “Blood, Sweat & Tears.”