25 June 2013 (gig)
25 June 2013
It is hard not to consider the history of The Rascals as a triumph, but one that is tarnished by decades of acrimony and inactivity. One of the, if not the best, American bands to come out of the early-to-mid 60’s – and one of the only ones who not only survived the British Invasion, but topped the charts alongside all the UK wunderkinds and Motown upstarts who were creating classic songs at assembly-line pace. While history has long documented the vastness of the band, the lack of good management (which was summed up perfectly by the band last night – “no one was looking out for us”) cause problems for the quartet and they first splintered and later fell apart. Amidst years of lawsuits flying back and forth, a partial and calamitous reunion tour in 1988, and long periods of just not comminuting, the four members of the Rascals were finally reunited by Steven and Maureen Van Zandt in 2010 for a for a one-off benefit show at the Kristen Ann Carr Fund Benefit in New York. That experience apparently aided in healing the bands long times wounds so well that Van Zandt got the group’s full lineup to tour for the first time since 1970.
“The Rascals: Once Upon A Dream,” which opened its run in Boston, MA at the Boston Opera House, is being billed as a “play,” – or as Van Zandt has said many times, “It’s Jersey Boys with the actual Four Seasons.” Amongst the bands epic 31 song set, were prerecorded interviews of all band members (shown on a screen behind the band) who told of the early group days, later heady days off having their songs chart 18 times, and through the darker days of war and protests – or as Danelli said, it was “the birth of consciousness and the death of innocence.”
Opening the show with some early clips of the group ended with an Ed Sullivan introduction of the band as they tore into the blue eyed assault of “It’s Wonderful” and “I've Been Lonely Too Long.” A lesser known, but superb cut from the band 1967 "Collections" record “What Is the Reason” was the kismet laced moment when all realized that the band has lost none of its talent or chemistry over a damn near half century of inactivity together.
Felix Cavaliere and Eddie Brigati co-shared many of the vocals were celestial to hear together. While no one could hit the range they once did as a young man, there was not much discernible difference. When the former writing partners harmonized it was like hearing the Everly Brothers being filtered with all the attitude (and accents) of Jersey Turnpike area locals.
While the “blue eyed soul” thing looms large in their legacy, The Rascals are still a rock band (Gene Cornish’s love for rockabilly guitarists no doubly played a big part in keeping the bands rock edge) and pulled out impenetrable takes of “You Better Run” (later a hit for Pat Benatar) and Larry Williams’ “Slow Down” (also covered by The Beatles). Drummer extraordinaire Dino Danelli did seem to relish the more rock-filled numbers as he got to do show off his skills at the drum kit and did not forget to pull out his signature twirling of the drumsticks to the gratification of the Beantown crowd (who needed a pickup, after seeing the Boston Bruins losing in the Stanley Cup playoffs the night before to Chicago).
The light show for the production was done by Marc Brickman (he worked with Pink Floyd) and it was nostalgic, psychedelic, and engrossing at times and make a perfect visual backdrop to The Rascals as they performed their musical history.The quartet was augmented onstage by a trio of backup singers, a second keyboardist, and amazing bass from the tour's musical director, Mark Prentice.
“The Rascals: Once Upon a Dream” really is a dream come true. Mostly for the four “other” Jersey boys who most likely thought they would never share a stage again (Cornish used to say the Rascals will reunite “when the Pope gets married”). And hearing “Good Lovin,” “How Can I Be Sure” and the utopian visions laid out in “People Got To Be Free” live by original Rascals in 2013 is a miracle.
At times forgotten, the band played a very important role in civil rights and were always strong supporters of racial equality (the band always insisted on have a black artist to open their shows) and they reminisced (on screen) that when they broke up there were major problems with war, pollution, politics, and racism. And then stated that now in 2013 - “Not a f—king thing has changed.”
Watching the band play “People Got To Be Free” live made think that maybe we need The Rascals as much now as we ever had.
The Rascals: Once Upon a Dream continues in Boston with performances June 26, June 28, and June 29 at Boston Opera House.