Monday, March 9, 2015

Britannia Rules A Wave Of Nostalgia

Over 50 years have passed since the original British Invasion arrived in America, but it still resonates as a sort of cultural and musical Camelot. For some, it coincided with the dawn of adolescence, adding a dash of moptop and miniskirt spice to a sudden awareness of sexual urges. And the songs, although inspired by American rhythm and blues artists (and in many cases, covers of those artists), sounded exotic and new. All of which might explain how The British Invasion 2015 Tour—Peter Asher, Terry Sylvester, Mike Pender, Chad and Jeremy, Denny Laine, and Billy J. Kramer—sold out its show at City Winery - Chicago this past Saturday. One backup band, comprised of first-rate musicians, performed with each of the acts throughout the night.

“I can’t believe after 50 years you guys still want to hear this music,” Pender, a founding member of The Searchers teased the audience. He and the other lads readily and humorously conceded that they’ve aged quite a bit since the days when their infectious 45 RPM records topped the charts. But these musicians still have plenty of spirit. Asher served as the event’s host, giving it a friendly and familiar face, especially for those of us who have seen his recent multi-media shows at Fest For Beatles Fans - Chicago and The Old Town School of Folk Music.

While introducing Terry Sylvester, Asher noted that the singer-guitarist was a member of three important UK bands; The Escorts, The Swinging Blue Jeans, and The Hollies. Sylvester peppered his set with deliberately cornball jokes, but he might have gotten his biggest laugh when he told the audience, “I replaced Graham Nash in The Hollies. I don’t know if he’s doing anything these days, but I’m still out there.” Sylvester’s enjoyable set included “You’re No Good” (which was later a hit by Linda Ronstadt) and “Hippy Hippy Shake” by The Swinging Blue Jeans; and “I Can’t Let Go,” “Bus Stop,” and “Just One Look” by The Hollies.

Mike Pender also cracked his share of jokes, mostly about being old, but he offered vibrant renditions of The Searchers’ “Needles And Pins,” “Sweets For The Sweet,” and “Love Potion Number 9.” He explained that “When You Walk Into The Room” was the first song on which the band used a 12-string guitar. Billy J. Kramer, like The Beatles, was managed in the 1960s by Brian Epstein. At City Winery, he performed the hits Lennon and McCartney wrote for him—“Bad To Me,” “From A Window,” “I Call Your Name,” and “I’ll Keep You Satisfied”— along with “Little Children,” and “Trains Boats And Planes.” He also offered a more recent effort of his own, the heartfelt tribute to Epstein “To Liverpool With Love.”
Chad and Jeremy opened with an a cappella version of “You Are She” and continued to showcase those impressive harmonies through a set that included “Distant Shores,” “Willow Weep For Me,”  “Summer Song,” and “Yesterday’s Gone.” The duo has long been known for its humor, having appeared on The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Patty Duke Show, and Batman, and they shared anecdotes at City Winery about meeting Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, and Lucille Ball. Their performance included a lot of good-natured ribbing, with Chad playing the rough-hewn, Americanized dude to Jeremy’s more elite, still-living-in-England dandy. 

After a short intermission, Denny Laine steered the show in a hard-hitting new direction as he delved into songs like James Brown’s “I’ll Go Crazy” and “Lose Your Money But Don’t Lose Your Mind,” an original written by The Moody Blues’ own Mike Pinder. The show’s consistently impressive supporting musicians especially shone here, providing spirited backup vocals throughout the set. Although Laine was The Moody Blues’ original singer, he was long gone by the time they became prog-rock superstars. At City Winery, he wondered aloud how “Nights In White Satin” might have sounded in The Moodies’ original format, and was by encouraged by the audience to give it a shot. The resulting bluesy version was just a snippet but a lot of fun. Laine finished with a rousing take on The Moody Blues’ first major hit, “Go Now!”

Having served as official MC for The British Invasion show all evening, Peter Asher performed some of the hits he recorded with the late Gordon Waller. Like Billy J. Kramer, Peter and Gordon had the great fortune of having Beatles write material for them. Asher explained that came about partly because Lennon hated McCartney’s “World Without Love” and wanted no part of it. Similarly, The Searchers had taken a pass on Del Shannon’s “I Go To Pieces” before Peter and Gordon took it to the top of the charts. Asher recalled his own reluctance to the sexy and silly “Lady Godiva,” and how Waller convinced him it would be a hit. There was a touching tribute to Waller that featured Asher singing “True Love Ways” along with a video clip of his former musical partner.

For the encore, Denny Laine returned and launched into “Band On The Run” from his days of being with Paul McCartney and Wings. The other performers drifted on stage one by one, until the entire  lineup was belting out the song for a rousing finale. They gathered in the lobby immediately after the show for a very gracious meet and greet with a long line of fans who have never lost their love of British Invasion.


Anonymous,  March 13, 2015 at 1:20 PM  

Excellent review of the show. I was at the Milwaukee show the night before, and had also seen one of their shows in 2014. From your review, the show sounds very similar to Milwaukee but Laine did not do the "Nights In White Satin" take in Milwaukee. Great, fun stuff for lovers of this music. Bob C.

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