The Rascals: Once Upon A Dream
“You may leave your cell phones on, take pictures, tweet them, facebook them, whatever the fuck you want.”
The pre-show announcement was a little different than most; yeah, this night might just be fun.
This night was the first show of a 15-night limited engagement and it was time for local legends to come home. After forty years, The Rascals were back together.
As anyone who lived in the NY Metro area in the 60’s will tell you, there were some local bands that made it and you were happy for them. But The Rascals were the band you were proud to call your own, they were the band that rocked it all over the world, even after the Brits came over here and essentially took over the music scene.
Steven Van Zandt (from The E Street Band, and who was Silvio in the Sopranos) was one of the thousands who grew up with The Rascals blend of rock, pop and blue-eyed soul, and never forgot it. For years he tried to get the band back together and for years they turned him down. Forty years after the original quartet last performed, he got his wish.
The Rascals’ Groovin’
Written by Van Zandt, Once Upon A Dream is not just a concert, nor is it a revival show. It is one of the best history lessons about the 60’s you will ever see. The stage is without scenery, only the band; with keyboardist Felix Cavaliere and drummer Dino Danelli on separate risers. Using their songs as a backdrop, pieces of history are shown on the giant screen behind the band. The show opens with Sophie Zamchick, looking the part of a flower child, ethereally singing the title song; her image imposed on the curtain at the front of the stage. As the band opened with “It’s Wonderful,” the first thing you notice is the big beat from Danelli. Always recognized as one of the best drummers of the day, the years haven’t taken away a thing. Crisp and precise, his technique is a testament to knowing exactly what is needed and doing it. A momentary technical glitch had lead singer Eddie Brigati’s microphone non-functional for about a minute. After a quick fix, the next two hours were a non-stop journey of the story behind the band, and some of the best music to come out of the seminal era of rock and roll.
Between songs, the tale of their beginnings is shared by way of film clips of Felix, Eddie, Gene and Dino talking about how they met, what influenced them and how the music was created. The narrator and tour guide if you will, is Vinny Pastore, “Big Pussy” from the Sopranos, who not only fills in the gaps, but provides a lot of comic relief. From their humble beginnings in New Jersey at The Choo Choo Club, a long-closed bar which still stands less than a quarter mile from where this review is being written, to London and their brush with another big act from the 60’s,The Beatles; the story of The Rascals is entertaining to say the least.
The visual design by Marc Brickman is at times, breathtaking. What he has created using only a video screen is remarkable. Providing a view of all that was current during the time of The Rascals reign, it looks nothing like a documentary. It’s more like a road trip in a VW microbus, with better gas mileage.
The Rascals’ Do you Feel It
Four decades is a long time to be out of the public eye, and it’s no longer those four young twenty-somethings on stage. But close your eyes for a minute and you know the sound is the real deal. Felix still has the soulful pipes, Gene, always the showman, connects with the audience and reminds us that shredding is not only a young man’s claim. With double tambourines or tambourine and maracas, Eddie, with his exuberance, is the soul of the show. And Dino is still intense. Pull up “What Is The Reason” on youtube and you will hear a serious drum line and a solo that every air drummer of the day had in his repertoire. Think Phil Collins “In The Air Tonight,” only more kick-ass.
As for the music, all the hits are there along with some lesser-known songs. “Somebody To Love,” while not their biggest hit, was as important as “Groovin” in the history of the band. Bridging a time when the sound of the 60’s was changing from pop to psychedelic, the song showed the true measure of the band. In total there are 28 tunes, all worth the price of admission. On this night, there were three standing ovations during the show itself along with dancing in the aisles. The Rascals were always musicians and still are. While every song is done well, they are not re-creating the sound note-for-note that came out of the 45’s on your record player. It’s a living, breathing show.
Having the original members of the band in the show means this is a project that can’t last forever. This run is for 15 shows. Put your money on it popping up from time to time in different places. See it if you can. Once Upon A Dream is truly a once in a lifetime event.
Written by Kath Galasso
OurVinyl | Contributor