For 40 years--a pop music eternity--the four original Rascals, among the only '60s bands still with all its original members, have been at war with each other in various combinations. For too long The New Rascals (with Dino Danielli and Gene Cornish) and Felix Cavaliere's Rascals have toured in competing units, interacting with each other only through lawyers and lawsuits.
When I interviewed Felix Cavaliere for New Times in 1994, he said something that would break any longtime Rascals fan's heart: "No, we do not get along... We go around talking about peace, love, and harmony, and getting along, and we don't even do it amongst ourselves. We failed as human beings."
The band's internecine squabbles meant never showing a united front when it came to keeping the band's name alive or capitalizing on their induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I knew of a Rascals superfan who, while trying to run a Rascals fan site, eventually just gave up trying to get them to cooperate on what verbiage to use on a landing page.
The miracle is that Steven Van Zandt, after decades of trying, finally succeeded in reuniting them--and for a charity concert, after they'd squabbled over money and refused million-dollar offers. That set the right tone for Once Upon a Dream, that the four Rascals patched things up for all the right reasons: For the music, for their legacy and because it was about fucking time.
When Once Upon a Dream had its Broadway run, it was at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York, just across the street from where Felix Cavaliere, Eddie Brigati and Gene Cornish first met at the old Peppermint Lounge, where they soon enlisted Dino Danielli and became the blue-eyed soul Beatles for the next five years. That opening night felt like a homecoming concert; this opening night, at the Orpheum just five months later, seemed more like a consolidation of the band's gathering strength as a unit.
The most noticeable difference is how Eddie Brigati, the one Rascal who hasn't been touring the past 40 odd years, seemed more confident of what he could still do with his voice, exploring his low register and hitting notes significantly higher than he managed at the Manhattan premiere. When he performed "How Can I Be Sure" there, he got a standing ovation largely because it's a great song. Here, the standing ovation was because he sang the shit out of it, giving it a rendering as great as you remembered it.
This show is not strictly a concert--it's an audio-visual presentation where the Rascals tell the band's story on video in little narrations that approximate the individual guys' personalities. Occasionally the band is represented by young actors dramatizing key moments in the group's career. The first half of the show is heavy on history, and contained mostly material from the first two years of the band.
My only complaint is the same as it was in New York--a feeling that some of these earlier numbers were played what felt like 20 beats per minute slower than they should have been. Maybe that was a compromise between band members used to playing songs a certain tempo for decades or a concession to an older audience, but the one word you don't want to use in describing classics like "Lonely Too Long" or "I Ain't Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore" is plodding.
There is a 1967 clip of The Rascals on The Ed Sullivan Show playing "Mickey's Monkey/Turn On Your Love Light" where the band practically levitates, pushing this medley to its climax. To expect the same urgency now is wrongheaded, but with the band's voices and chops up to the challenge, it seems a shame not to push some these classics a little harder and faster. When the band did dial it all in perfectly, as they did on "Come on Up," "You Better Run" and the only Cavaliere/Cornish composition, "Do You Feel It," you get the best approximation of what the band's earliest gigs at The Choo Choo Club and The Barge might've sounded like.
Felix Cavaliere was in great voice throughout, still possessing a killer falsetto that he used to great effect on "A Ray of Hope" and "Heaven." He also summoned up some growls and screams that he avoided in New York. After decades of performing only songs found on Time-Peace: The Rascals Greatest Hits (the only Rascals album to stay in print post-breakup until the arrival of the CD), Cavaliere seemed especially delighted to be tackling obscure album cuts like "Sueno" and mid-charting later singles like "See" and "Hold On."
And when the band launched into "What is The Reason," the song that Van Zandt insisted they put in the set when he first reunited them, you heard where the E Street Band got the arrangement for Bruce Springsteen's version of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town."
The second half of the show, with its reduced storytelling and increased audience interaction, felt more like a traditional concert, and the band seemed more fired up, putting forth a radiant "A Girl Like You" (where drummer extraordinaire Dino Danielli was at his best displaying his jazz chops) and "It's Love," which intermingled video footage of Vietnam soldiers and rock festival hippies.
During their last chart-topper, members of the audience twice rushed to the stage to dance, only to be corralled back. "People Gotta Be Free," but they gotta remain seated, too.
As a sweeping, legacy restoring move, the band and Van Zandt couldn't have nailed it any better than this awe-inspiring show, which still has four more performances to go. One wonders if, after 40-odd years of radio silence, the reunited foursome might now be able go into a recording studio and craft some new things to say to the audience they just reconnected with.
Setlist: It's Wonderful Lonely Too Long What Is the Reason You Better Run Carry Me Back Slow Down Mickey's Monkey/Turn on Your Love Light Come On Up Baby Let's Wait Too Many Fish In the Sea If You Knew Hold On I Ain't Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore Good Lovin'
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Love is a Beautiful Thing Groovin' Do You Feel It Away Away It's a Beautiful Morning Sueno Find Somebody A Girl Like You It's Love How Can I Be Sure People Got to Be Free Heaven A Ray of Hope People Got to Be Free reprise See