The Happy Together Tour made its debut stop on Aug. 28 in Winnipeg, MB to a sold out audience at McPhillips Street Station casino.
Founded in 1984 by 60s pop rockers The Turtles, featuring Flo and Eddie (a.k.a. Turtles founding members Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan), the tour features a rotating five-band line up of 60s stars.
Along with The Turtles, the 2013 version features a diverse and impressive lineup, which includes: Gary Lewis and The Playboys, ex-Raider frontman Mark Lindsay, Gary Puckett and The Union Gap, as well as ex-Three Dog Night lead singer Chuck Negron.
Having seen most of these acts during their hey day in the late 60s and early 1970s, I didn’t set my expectations overly high, especially given that all of the feature stars are in their late 60s or early 70s.
I’m “happy” to report (pun totally intended), the tour proved a pleasant surprise right across the board.
The well-paced show began with a brief recorded introduction by legendary D.J. Shadoe Stevens at 8:05 p.m. before beginning the night with Gary Lewis, son of well-known comedian/actor Jerry Lewis.
During each act’s performance, a large LED screen behind the stage flashed psychedlia, period footage and pictures of the stars from back in their heyday.
Although Lewis usually performs with The Playboys, to save set up time, all artists used The Happy Together house band, a tight unit led by musical director Godfrey Townsend (guitar/keyboards) along with Manny Pocarazzo (keyboards), John Montagna (bass) and Steve Murphy on drums, who handled the music and backing vocal duties for all acts and did a great job of performing the arrangements as originally recorded.
Lewis, who was the only artist during the 1960s to have its first seven Hot 100 releases reach the U.S. Hot 100 chart’s Top 10, opened with his 1965 hit “Count Me In.”
Although he likely had the weakest voice on the bill, whatever Lewis lacked vocally, he made up for with good energy, professionalism, a warm stage persona, and an impressive back catalogue of hits (many self-penned), which included: “Green Grass,” “Save Your Heart For Me,” “Everybody Loves A Clown,” “This Diamond Ring” and “She’s Just My Style.”
Exiting to rousing applause from the primarily babyboomer audience, ex-Paul Revere and The Raider lead vocalist Mark Lindsay quickly took the stage to the strains of Freddy Cannon’s “Where the Action Is,” the theme song from an afternoon ABC network teen variety show, produced by Dick Clark, which helped jumpstart the band’s career.
Sporting a ruffled burgundy robe, which resembled The Raiders’ early Revolutionary War stage togs, Lindsay served notice that his voice still had plenty of power and grit, kicking his portion off with a pair of 1966 Raider garage rock classics “Steppin’ Out” and “Just Like Me.”
Interspersing songs with stories about the band’s formative years, Lindsay then changed up the pace, performing a hit from his successful solo career – the 1969 power ballad “Arizona,” before returning to close his segment with Raider’s classics “Good Thing,” “Indian Reservation” and their 1966 anti-drug classic “Kicks.”
A small quibble about the overall show, would be the brevity of some of the artist’s segment, which have been slightly lengthier in other venues at which the overall show ran 2 1/2 hours versus 2 hours. However, this may have been due to venue curfew or contract agreement and possibly out of the artists’ hands.
Pop crooner Gary Puckett was next up, opening with The Union Gap’s 1968 single “Lady Willpower,” his first in a string of hit 60s power ballads.
Although Puckett ocassionally took liberties with melody lines, he proved he could still nail the choruses with all the power and range for which he is remembered, and earned extra kudos for coming down front and shaking hands with audience members.
His set included Union Gap hits “Over You,” “This Girl Is A Woman Now,” “Woman, Woman” and “Young Girl.”
Following Puckett’s ballad heavy set, Chuck Negron hit the stage next and got the house rocking once again, opening with Three Dog Night’s hook and groove laden 1973 hit ” Shambala.”
Infamous for his former heroin addiction and hard partying ways, well documented in his 1999 bestselling memoir “Three Dog Nightmare,” Negron made light of his drug days with self-effacing humour.
At 71-years old, Negron’s voice remains soulful and powerful. He paid tribute to his former bandmembers, intermixing hits on which he was the featured lead vocalist such as “One,” and their monster hit “Joy to the World” along with powerful renderings of other Three Dog Night hits such as “Celebrate” and “Mama Told Me Not To Come.”
The Turtles, featuring the wild antics of ex-Mothers of Invention frontmen Flo and Eddie, capped the night, showing an amazing amount of stage energy for a couple of guys in their mid-sixties.
The pair entered, busting moves from Psy’s “Gangam Style” in mock fashion along with a video clip before yelling, “what have they done to our music?” and teeing off on their buoyant 1967 hit “She’d Rather Be with Me.”
Flo delivered his lead vocals with authority while Eddie pulled acrobatic stunts with drumsticks, tambourines or cowbells to entertain the crowd in addition to his soaring two-part harmonies.
Their 1966 single “You Baby,” preceded their hit Dylan cover “It Ain’t Me Babe.”
Eddie’s intro to their 1969 hit “You Showed Me” morphed into Kaylan doing a deadly impersonation of the late Jim Morrision singing “Riders on the Storm,” followed by their self-penned 1968 hit “Elenore” and set closer – their massive 1967 hit (and tour namesake) “Happy Together,” which earned them a standing ovation.
For the final encore, all the previous acts returned to briefly reprise each of their set-closers, earning all of the artists one last well-deserved standing ovation, while the babyboomers began to file out into the casino feeling “happy” indeed with the soundtrack of their youth still freshly vibrating in their heads.
The tour’s next stop is on Sept. 1 in Syracuse, N.Y. at New York State Fairgrounds.
For more information, check out at TheTurtles.com.