(August 9, 2014; THE FAMILY ARENA, Saint Charles, MO)
When I first saw that the 2014 version of the HAPPY TOGETHER TOUR was coming to our neck of the woods, I was unsure of what to expect but… I did know that I wanted to be there. After all, I grew up with the music of Mark Farner and Grand Funk Railroad and Chuck Negron and Three Dog Night; I always liked Mitch Ryder (with or without his Detroit Wheels); and, of course, I liked the Turtles but, I loved Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan’s post-Turtles work as members of the Mothers of Invention and as the Phlorescent Leech and Eddie. For the record, I was never a huge fan of Gary Lewis and the Playboys, but, hey… four outta five ain’t bad, huh?
One thing I was expecting was full band participation, as the ads listed the acts as “Gary Lewis and the Playboys,” “Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels,” and the “Turtles with Flo and Eddie.” Plus, Mark Farner has been playing with the same band for quite a few years. However, there were no Playboys, no Detroit Wheels, no Turtles and no Mark Farner Band; I ran into John Montagna out front of the venue and he told me that he was playing bass in the “house band,” a group that I later learned have been playing together for several years, as backing band for everyone from Alan Parsons‘ Live Project to Joey Molland and, yes, the Turtles. Upon entering the venue, two things were evident (if you were paying attention): First, this was a decidedly AARP-heavy crowd (now, don’t get yer granny-panties in a bunch… though I have no affiliation with the organization, I do qualify for membership) and, second, not only would there be no Playboys, their leader, Gary Lewis, would also be a no-show (apparently, he’d already missed several dates due to illness). Though I’m sure that there were a lot of people disappointed that Lewis wasn’t playing, I was more than okay with that.
A recording of Shadoe Stevens kept us informed, like a NASA countdown, of the number of minutes left before the HAPPY TOGETHER TOUR 2014 would kick off: Ten minutes… three minutes later, the five minute mark was reached… two minutes later, we were told that we had two minutes left… five seconds later, we hit the one minute mark and the start of the show, in quick succession, as Stevens introduced Mitch Ryder. The band played a brief intro for Mitch, who ripped through a set that included “Little Latin Lupe Lu,” “Jenny Take a Ride” and, what is probably his biggest hit, “Devil With a Blue Dress On” coupled with Richard Penniman’s “Good Golly, Miss Molly” like he was a kid. Which was cool, ’cause he looked more like Mick Mars on a bender. Ryder’s voice sounded strong and it was evident that he was having a blast on stage, recounting tales of youthful conquest and commenting that when the single “Sock It To Me, Baby” was released in 1967, he wasn’t allowed to sing the lyrics as written; with a sly smile, he delivered the unedited, “dirty” version which, he opined, “after three-and-a-half decades of rap, I figure you can handle the original version tonight.” Even though Mitch was on stage for less than 30 minutes, we were certainly off to a rip-roaring start!
As Mitch walked off stage, the recorded voice of Shadoe Stevens (I coulda sworn that guy was dead!) introduced one of my all-time favorites, Mark Farner, the driving force behind Grand Funk Railroad for more than 30 years. The band, already a well-oiled rock and roll machine, seemed to tighten things up even more during Mark’s set. Kicking off with “The Loco-Motion,” it was obvious that the guitar-playing part of Grand Funk was ready to have some fun. After a joke about age and keeping hydrated, Farner introduced the band’s biggest chart success: Don Brewer’s “We’re an American Band.” He took the high road and, sensibly, also introduced “the world’s best singing drummer,” Steve Murphy, who – if you closed your eyes – sounded enough like Brewer to cause flashbacks. Murphy also handled the second vocal parts on “Some Kind of Wonderful” and “I’m Your Captain,” which Farner dedicated to all of the military personnel currently defending (as well as those who served and died to preserve) the freedoms we, as Americans, enjoy each day. If you didn’t know, Mark is a huge supporter of our military and does great work for various veterans organizations. For an old Grand Funk fan, this was the highlight of the night.
After Mark’s set, there was a short (about ten minutes) break, as many in attendance had to head to the water receptacles to take their evening meds. Before getting back to the actual show, I’d like to tell you about a guy I met before the doors opened. His name is Ralph. He served our country as a Marine in the early 1970s and he is a huge Three Dog Night fan. He knew the other bands’ music, but he was here to see THE voice of Three Dog Night, Chuck Negron. I kinda kept an eye on Ralph during the show, to see if he was having a good time. Boys and girls, the smile on that man’s face when Negron walked on stage made my day! Chuck was having a good time, too. When he finished set opener “Mama Told Me (Not To Come),” he joked about messing up the words: “I forgot the last verse. I did the second verse twice.” After “Celebrate,” he noted that he had no problem remembering the title of the tune; after repeating it about sixty times, it all came back to him. Other pitch perfect hits included “Shambala,” “One,” and “Joy To the World.” I don’t think Ralph missed a single word as he sang along.
As Flo and Eddie (Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan) took the stage, it was obvious that their set was going to be something completely different. As the pair spent a few minutes berating each other, I think a lot of people were starting to wonder just what was happening. Eventually, the guys kicked into “She’d Rather Be With Me,” and there was dancing in the aisles (so to speak). One of the Turtles’ big hits, Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me, Babe,” elicited a great response before one of the guys told the crowd that the next song was the one that made him a billionaire. That song, “You Showed Me,” snaked its way through a series of tunes by the Doors, including “Riders On the Storm” and “Light My Fire.” The band introductions (before “You Showed Me”) turned into another comedy bit, as Howard introduced guitarist Godfrey Townsend as the group’s musical director. Mark asked Townsend to step forward… but not too far out… back a half-step… now a bit to the left… okay, that’s good… now, get back to your spot. Okay… so that’s why the guy leading the band looked so familiar: I met Godfrey about 13 years ago, when he was a member of the John Entwistle Band. At least I can finally stop racking my brain about that!
By this time, I was back in my seat with my friend, Bill, who – like me – is a huge Frank Zappa fan. I kept bugging him with, “So, do you think they’ll do ‘Bwana Dik?’ How ’bout ‘Call Any Vegetable?’ Or, maybe, they’ll do ‘What Kind of Girl Do You Think We Are.’” After a fantastic version of “Elenore,” someone on stage yelled “Zappa” and the band broke into a cool take of “Peaches en Regalia.” I was grinnin’ like a buffoon! The set ended – as it should – with the Turtles’ signature tune (and the song that supplied the name of this tour), “Happy Together.” Kaylan thanked the crowd and said that it had been a great night… so great, in fact, that we should start the whole thing over. With that, Mitch Ryder came back for a short reprise of “Devil With the Blue Dress On.” Mark Farner reprised “The Loco-Motion,” Chuck Negron did “Joy To the World” and the ensemble finished with a sing-along version of “Happy Together.” A great night of classic rock and roll and pop. Plus, we were out the door and on our way home at ten sharp… some of us need our sleep, ya know.