The Happy Together Tour grand finale at Westbury (Photo: May Pang)
Now that the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus is no more, the Turtles annual Happy Together Tour is unquestionably the Greatest Show on Earth. And at its currently named NYCB Theater at Westbury stop Friday night, it even had a rather spooky sideshow element.
"I don't want to upset anybody," said Three Dog Night vocalist Chuck Negron before his set, "but four days ago I passed away!" Luckily his agent called and insisted that mortality notwithstanding, he still had to get up and do the gig.
But old age was a running theme for the six 1960s/'70s acts--that and their cornucopia of timeless hits. Standouts for the just-turned-75-year-old Negron included his nuanced replication of Three Dog Night's hit cover of Laura Nyro's "Eli's Comin'" and the band's chart-topping "Joy to the World," which required no prompting for audience participation.
Negron's been on the Happy Together Tour many times, as has been The Association, the current group featuring original members Jim Yester and Jules Alexander as well as Del Ramos, brother of late long-timer Larry Ramos. But the tour's house band, led by guitarist Godfrey Townsend, deserves credit for filling out their missing associates such that the vocal arrangements on monster hits like "Never My Love" and "Cherish" were record-perfect.
The Cowsills, on the tour for the third year in a row, were once again a revelation on their huge hits "The Rain, The Park and Other Things," "Indian Lake" and "Hair." As for The Turtles, Mark Volman clearly has come a long way since undergoing treatment for throat cancer last year, while Howard Kaylan is back on his feet again after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his knee during last year's tour and having to stay seated for some of the shows.
Kaylan, perhaps in a nod to the political Resistance, proclaimed that he will always call the in-the-round venue by its old Westbury Music Fair name instead of whatever corporate initials it goes by at any given time. But forget their always glorious delivery of their hits, ending, as ever, with "Happy Together" and then the grand finale call-back of the preceding acts for a verse of their biggest hits: Volman and Kaylan this year come out in one of their wackiest costumes yet—the recent movie's Beauty and The Beast.
"Stop the music!" said Kaylan, tearing off his Beast mask. "How low can we go? We've done some screwed-up s—t in our time, but this is the dumbest thing ever!" Then Volman, as Beauty, proffered him a rose, and they made up in time for "She'd Rather Be with Me."
Kaylan and Volman have been friends now for 55 years and music partners almost that long. For deep Turtles fans, they threw in a bit of Frank Zappa genius from their Flo & Eddie period as a prelude to "Eleanor." Meanwhile, the two new acts on what Kaylan called the "Take What You Can Get Tour" acquitted themselves very well indeed.
Rightly billed as The Archies' Ron Dante, opener Dante sang his classic Archies' bubblegum hits "Sugar, Sugar" and "Jingle Jangle," his hit with The Cufflinks "Tracy," and several of the famous jingles he sang in the '60s (Dr. Pepper, Almond Joy, Budweiser, Coke). And The Box Tops, featuring original members, Bill Cunningham and Gary Talley, performed their big hits "The Letter" and "Soul Deep," as well as their fellow Memphis soulmates Booker T. & the M.G.'s "Green Onions."
The Box Tops also sang their 1967 psychedelic-leaning hit "Neon Rainbow," with Cunningham instructing that if it brought forth any audience flashbacks, those who were okay should try to "talk down" those who started tripping.
"There are no more free clinics!" said Cunningham, in the evening's one comment that was both funny and sober.