Reviews > Shows
The Rascals at The Capitol Theatre
Port Chester, NY
The way the Rascals figure it, if you’re going to bother reuniting after a 40-year break, you might as well do it right. Like most bands that emerge from a cocoon to give it another go, vocalist Eddie Brigati, organist/singer Felix Cavaliere, guitarist Gene Cornish and drummer Dino Danelli—all originals alive and accounted for—were here to reprise their hits. But they also had a story to tell—their own—and so for six nights over two weekends, their first significant public gigs since they split, they did both. With encouragement and production assistance from E Street Band mainstay and garage-rock champion Steven Van Zandt and his associates, the quartet put together a program called “Once Upon a Dream” (lifted from the title of their 1968 album) that allowed them to reprise virtually every song they’re known for and, between those songs, relate—via filmed, scripted commentary by the four musicians and by actors portraying the Rascals during their ’60s heyday—how it all went down
First things first: the music. The Rascals were always a great band, and one that—like most ’60s bands—went through a multitude of rapid changes and experienced frequent ups and downs during their relatively brief time together. Coming up during the vibrant pre-Beatles discotheque scene in New York City and New Jersey, playing twist music and soul covers, the Young Rascals, as they were initially called, broke out in late 1965/early ’66 after they signed first with manager Sid Bernstein and then with Atlantic Records. Their first hits, including the 1966 number one “Good Lovin’,” a cover of a then-recent song by the R&B group the Olympics (and a mid-show highlight here), were very much in the tough garage style of the day, albeit with a hard soul bent courtesy of Cavaliere’s organ. But before long they found their own sound, a heady hybrid that came to be dubbed blue-eyed soul, and by early 1967 through the end of the decade they remained one of the most popular American rock bands, continually progressing, trying out new sounds, moving into and back out of the flower-power realm but never losing that innate soulfulness.
All of that was intact at the Capitol. The core group—augmented by a bassist, keyboardist and trio of backup singers—didn’t so much attempt to recreate their hits note for note as dig deep into the spirit of those songs and rebirth them. They were all there—“I’ve Been Lonely Too Long,” “Come On Up,” “A Girl Like You,” “I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore,’ “How Can I Be Sure,” “You Better Run,” “Love Is a Beautiful Thing,’ “Groovin’” (the second number one), “People Got To Be Free” (the third), “A Beautiful Morning” and the rest of their charting singles—along with enough album tracks, B-sides and other ephemera to keep those who’ve waited four decades for this night in thrall.
And they were terrifically entertaining and musically wicked—cliché as it might be to say so, they sounded as if they’d never left. Brigati’s vocals may have been a key or so lower than on the records but he’s strong and clear and retains the purity of emotion he delivered on those slabs of vinyl: When he bellowed the crescendo “I really, really, really want to know” in “How Can I Be Sure,” hearts melted all over that beautifully renovated room in Westchester County. Cavaliere, too, was in fine form on his vocal leads—his is one of the most distinctive of ’60s rock voices, and audible gasps could be heard when he first opened his mouth to sing—he was still that good. The harmonies? Exquisite. Instrumentally? In sync from moment one: Danelli—one of the era’s snazziest timekeepers—was rock-solid and as showy as ever (yes, he still twirls his sticks); Cavaliere’s Hammond washes were sweet and enveloping; Cornish’s guitar work stunning, alternately gnashing and fluid, even more inspired and intricate than in the ’60s.
But the 20-some-odd songs they played were only half the story. There was more to this show than the band onstage and while some might have thought filmed interludes between each number would slow the momentum or become annoying, it simply never happened. Speaking directly to the camera, each Rascal reminisced, confessed and otherwise regaled, unfurling story after revealing and riotous story in a candid manner that didn’t pull punches—like Broadway’s Jersey Boys, perhaps, but with the actual band playing the tunes. What emerged mainly during the visual segments was the four distinct personalities that made this group what they were (Brigati, incidentally, is one hilarious fellow). In addition to the spoken interludes, footage from the original Rascals era and an updated Fillmore-style light show kept the eyes working while the band played on.
At one point it was stated onscreen that had one of these four guys not ended up in the group that became the Rascals, then there may never have been a Rascals to speak of. Luckily for rock and roll, fate did what it did and now, four decades after that same fate pulled them apart, they were back being Rascals again. As far as reunions of long-dormant bands go, this one was a keeper. To borrow the title of their opening number, it was, simply, wonderful.
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