Sunday, September 14, 2008

Some Assembly Required

I wasn't even going to go, but Friday night we wound up in the very front row at the annual D.A.R.E. concert in the high school auditorium. There were four seats going begging at the end of the center row, and Kelly had dug out two of his vinyl Juice Newton albums and brought them along for her to sign, which she happily did at the intermission.

The D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) concerts are always fun. Evanston truly appreciates any live performance because they're so rare here, and I feel like the performers are always pleasantly surprised to find such enthusiastic attendance and participation in a small town. (They always complain about the altitude, however; Evanston sits at just under 7,000 feet.) I particularly enjoyed Paul Revere and the Raiders a few years ago, but Juice Newton and Gary Puckett were probably the best we've had so far.

Juice, I have to say, is aging quite well. She was wearing a lace shirt and black bra under a sparkly jacket with five-inch velvet cuffs and pulling it all off nicely, and her vocal control and power seem completely undiminished compared to recordings I heard on K-95 radio in Kemmerer the 80's. I remember particularly liking "Queen of Hearts" but was at the age where it didn't matter to me who sang it. It's nice, now, to have a face to go with that voice. Friday's was an acoustic show and she was very exposed but handled it nicely.

She was chatty and silly and very down to earth, but her guitarist and bass player were almost more interesting to me. Otha Young (who wrote The Carpenters' "Sweet, Sweet Smile") picked out masterful solos on guitar and mandolin and was a rather conservative performer, focusing on his instrument instead of the crowd, standing mostly still, dressed casually in a striped oxford loose over carpenter jeans. The very nimble basist, Jay Cawley, wore an oxford with a dark blazer and had a very high, smooth voice that meshed beautifully with Juice's rather harsher, lower tone. He also possessed a darling, angelic Irish smile which he flashed liberally into the crowd, and he swung the bass and stepped around in a square when he wasn't playing. I had a fine time trying to decide who he resembled more, because at times he looked just like Bill Murray, in another light he might look like an appealingly aging Colin Firth, and there were moments when he bore more than a subtle resemblance to my dad, who looked very much like an oversized Archie Bunker/Carroll O'Connor in his later years. Same frizzy, grizzled gray-blonde hair following the same arched forehead, same round, red nose tip, same even, white teeth.

Gary Puckett looked more like an aging Vegas lounge lizard than anything, from the gold neck chain peeking from his printed silk collar to the white crocodile boots, as he reprised favorite hits of his own (which were numerous) and covered everything from Paul Simon and The Beatles to the Beach Boys and Roy Orbison (whose "Pretty Woman" was the only song Cordale recognized the entire evening). He also told off-color jokes and made us do the Hokey Pokey, and there were moments when his violently exaggerated vibrato made me cringe and shrink into my seat. But he clearly adores performing, and it is clearly reciprocated; there were heartfelt declarations of love from female members of the audience, shouted anonymously in the dark, which made the corners of his mouth twitch. The first time he responded, "Thanks, Mom. I love you, too."

The three untucked members of The Union Gap, a drummer, keyboardist and bassist, were clearly not the original members (they were way too young), but they were also obviously glad to be there, and none more than the hammy keyboardist. He was so animated and cheesy that it was hard not to become fixated on him as he vamped behind his double decker Yamaha/Roland setup, stomping and grinning, bobbing and beaming into the spotlight as if to say, "Isn't this FUN? Doesn't this ROCK? I'm playing in The Union Gap!" And actually, he was very, very good at what he was doing.

But the venerable Puckett and his wispy near-mullet retrieved my attention with stories of the old days in L.A., like the afternoon at ABC when he was recording in Studio D while in A, B, and C stood Janis Joplin, Sly and the Family Stone, and Paul Revere and the Raiders, respectively. He admitted being a little starstruck and when he introduced his mother to Janis in her tie dyed tunic, leather and beads, she reportedly handed Mrs. Puckett a bag of grass.

Puckett shook hands with every attendant U.S. military veteran who could amble to the front of the auditorium and praised our region's rural values ("People wave and say hello!"), and I decided he might be fun to have a drink with if he would tell more stories about the recording industry in the 60's. He expressed a lot of humility, thanking fans for making his songs hits, and also his gratitude and joy at having been in the music industry long enough to have seen so many stars pass through and having witnessed history being made, at having been a part of history.

I'm sure that by the time I was in bed (deliciously enhanced by my birthday present from Mom, a four-inch Memory Foam mattress topper, which, when combined with my down comforter and flannel sheets, induces a coma nightly), they were on the road again in plush tour buses that still can't replicate the comforts of home, wherever that may be. And it's interesting to me that as unique an evening as that was in Evanston, it's likely that in a few days nobody on that bus will remember the name of this town or any face from the crowd.

And there may be a day in the distant future when all I remember about this weekend is picking the last good raspberries and peas in June's garden on a golden September day and toasting marshmallows over crackling pine logs after the light was gone, and I'll have forgotten the names Juice Newton and Gary Puckett. And I may be humming "Angel of the Morning" or "Young Girl" and not even remember why.


Blogger mister anchovy said...

I haven't heard either of those names in years. Up here in the Toronto area, aging rockers play at a casino on a native reserve an hour and a half from Toronto, at a place called Rama...hence the name of the joint, CasinoRama.

September 17, 2008 at 8:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jay Cawley here, the nimble bassist & the Irish smiler
w/ Juice Newton. Have to mention that the Evanston gig was one of the finer trio jobs I've had the pleasure to play, and quite surprising at that, for Evanston is not known for it's welcome, at least not in my known world. But surprises are always welcome, and your review I find in tune and on time. A delicious morsel
to indulge in when time has passed so many by, including this one. Thank you for the kindness
ad the ear that hears and the eyes that see. Jay Cawley

September 30, 2008 at 9:32 PM  

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