Minutes before Jason Aldean’s Sept. 1 set at the New York State Fair Grandstand, a scuffle broke out in the upper reaches that had state Troopers scrambling to restore order. It seemed to be a sign that the young crowd in the full house was ready to get rowdy, but it didn’t work out that way. They seemed to enjoy the show, standing throughout as the thunderous beat vibrated their chests and assaulted their eardrums, but they stayed curiously calm.
Aldean likewise coolly delivered what his fans seemed to want: straightforward and unadorned modern country music, as he defines it. The Aldean brand is excessively loud and bass-dominated, with hard-edged songs that mostly sound a lot alike. He chews off the words without much emotion while engaging in practically no interaction with the audience, making for a sharp contrast with the personable Keith Urban, who had played the same venue a week earlier, sparking more excitement despite having half as many fans on hand.
The 35-year-old Georgian led his five-piece band through 16 radio-familiar songs on a fancy, high-tech stage that featured numerous video screens and dazzling lighting effects that reached to the overhang, making for a spectacular atmosphere. Although the musical performance couldn’t be described in such glowing terms, there were a few highlights, notably “Fly Over States,” a unique perspective on blue-collar America, and the farmer’s lament “Amarillo Sky.”
Aldean may think he has it all figured out as he’s getting rich with his tough cowboy act, but he has a long way to go in terms of showmanship. His macho redneck look included predictable fashion staples, his wide-brimmed hat shadowing his unshaven mug and his plentiful bling contrasting his ripped jeans. But the strange thing was that he never let go of his stony facial expression, singing through clenched teeth, barely cracking a smile a time or two. He was standing in the spotlight surrounded by 17,000 adoring devotees, but he looked like he was undergoing a colonoscopy. His talking points were straight from the Rascal Flatts book of blather, with gratuitous flattery and mindless blabbing, never saying anything clever or amusing—unless you count him telling fans to get drunk.
That aside, Team Aldean did what they came to do and you can’t fault their consistently fine musicianship on his string of party-worthy tunes. He wrapped up his set, having sung all of his hits in a scant hour, another sign that he needs some coaching in showing his appreciation to a big crowd of people who paid up to $65 to be there. It only got worse when his encore signaled the end of the country portion of the show with a mind-numbing hip-hop mess. With that revolting exception, Jason Aldean did fine with what he did, but was lacking in that he could have done so much more, from losing the scowl to playing longer.
Although beer was obviously the beverage of choice that night, water prices in the Grandstand rose to $3.50 this year and it’s time for State Fair administration to do something to restore sanity by allowing patrons to bring in a bottle or at least make prices reasonable. Music fans who want to give them a prod can reach fair director Dan O’Hara at 487-7711, Ext. 1200 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Monkee See, Turtle Soup
Monkee See, Turtle Soup
It was a baby boomerama on Aug. 30 when the five-act Happy Together Tour wrapped its 42-city cavalcade with a visit to the New York State Fair’s Chevy Court, in the process luring thousands of fans—as well as their grandkids—for the evening show. The formidable lineup of 1960s-era musicians and their durable chart hits brought memories of scanning the old Ford Falcon’s AM radio dial for local deejays like Jim O’Brien, Dandy Dan Leonard and Bud Ballou. And despite the notion that the demographic that still embraces the old-school pop icons might not have lasted the night, most of them stayed in their bleacher seats and sang right along with their heroes during the 2 1/2-hour harmonic hullabaloo.
Assembling a gaggle of still-singing musicians for a road trip is nothing new; entrepreneur Alan Freed did it in the 1950s when rock was young, and Sha-Na-Na frontman Bowzer still carries the torch for occasional touring get-togethers. Yet The Turtles mainstays Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan, a.k.a. Flo and Eddie, seem to have perfected the formula for this third annual Happy Together shindig. They figured out that a consistent backup band would mean less time for onstage band switcheroos and leave more room for music. And that quartet delivered the goods big time, including drummer Steve Murphy, keyboardist Manny Focarazzo, guitarist Godfrey Townsend and Mitch Weissman on bass, with Kaylan humorously referring to the latter as “the fat Paul” from the Broadway show Beatlemania.
The well-oiled tour package, replete with taped band intros by velvet-voiced deejay Shadoe Stevens, allotted about 25 or so minutes per act, enough for entire replications of their chart-busters instead of the dreaded hits-and run medley versions. And sunny nostalgia brightened much of the evening, which started with two original members from The Buckinghams, vocalist Carl Giammarese and bassist Nick Fortuna, still sounding pretty good as they worked their way through “Don’t You Care,” “Hey Baby, They’re Playing Our Song,” “Susan” (minus the spacey orchestral interlude that was often cut by AM radio programmers), “Kind of a Drag” and even a cover of The Outsiders’ “Time Won’t Let Me.” Giammarese recalled a long-ago TV appearance on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in which they performed on a decidedly mod backdrop: “They thought we were a British band. We were Italians from the west side of Chicago!”
The Grass Roots’ veteran guitarist Dusty Hanvey and relative newbie singer Mark Dawson followed with sure things like “Wait a Million Years,” “Sooner or Later,” “Temptation Eyes” and “Midnight Confessions.” Gary Puckett, without his Union Gap, was next. More of a crooner than a rock’n’roll belter, the frizzy-haired performer probably had the night’s toughest set, with hard-to-sing tracks such as “Lady Willpower,” “This Girl is a Woman Now” and “Young Girl,” yet his longtime musical chops somehow made it all work. Both acts also featured shoutouts to armed forces veterans past and present, with the Grass Roots nicely covering Stephen Stills’ “Find the Cost of Freedom” and Puckett handling the poignant “Home.”
Hiding underneath a pork-pie hat and sunglasses, The Monkees’ Micky Dolenz was nevertheless the most antic performer on this tour. The tambourine-wielding star banged out faves (“(I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone,” “That Was Then, This Is Now”) and reminiscences, notably his mini-tribute to recently departed Monkee mate Davy Jones with “Daydream Believer,” while the Jumbotron screen flashed images from their Teen Beat magazine cover era. Dolenz often gave credit to the songwriters, such as how Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart helped “define The Monkees’ sound” before launching into “Last Train to Clarksville.” And prior to the inevitable rendition of “I’m a Believer,” Dolenz told the many kids in the audience, “I sang this song long before Shrek!”
The Flo and Eddie experience wrapped the night with a slightly satiric flourish, especially when deejay Stevens described The Turtles as “innocent psychedelia,” followed by the boys dolled up in blonde wigs as a Lady Gaga track boomed from the speakers. “What have they done to our music?” Howard Kaylan yelped before waxing Turtles nostalgia with “Some Girls,” “You Baby” and other hits.
Kaylan made the alleged claim that the evening’s show was being recorded for a future CD, as he cajoled the audience to shout the “no-no-no” refrain for Bob Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me, Babe.” “And you’ll buy it next year,” Kaylan said with a laugh, “because you’re on it, you bastards!” There was even a nod to their days with Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention with a snippet from “Peaches en Regalia” that segued into the fizzy-pop joys of “Elenore.”
The encore gathered everyone on stage for quick in-unison vocal volleys of each band’s greatest hit, with Kaylan scoring a funny moment with his operatic trill on Puckett’s “Young Girl.” Yet Mark Volman made an earlier assessment about their Happy Together outings that surely rang true for themselves and their audience: “We’re happy to be anywhere at our age!”
When the sibling trio known as The Band Perry made their State Fair debut on the evening of Sept. 2, they lived up to the promise of their phenomenally successful first CD, which will surely lead to a solid career. While it’s apparent that these youngsters are still working on an identity, from what they showed at Chevy Court, they should seriously consider staying with country as that’s what they do best. Their more pop-oriented or rocking songs, like their fluffy single “Hip to My Heart” and “Walk Me Down the Middle,” a number that had sister Kimberly Perry sounding like Carrie Underwood, were overall less satisfying.
In terms of that identity, the Perrys are certainly family, but only technically a band. They’re all up there playing and singing, but this is the Kimberly Perry show, as the boys are clearly supporting players. She sang all the leads and did nearly all of the talking. Brother Neil Perry sounded fine when he did sing a few bars solo, but his harmony seemed a little flat. Middle sibling Reid Perry’s major contribution was playing bass guitar. While as a group they’re charming and likable, more interaction and variety may solidify their stage appeal.
This night Kim’s stage presence crackled with energy and spirit, even though she sounded worn down as she sang what she called the last show of their summer tour. With a fall agenda filled with dates opening for Brad Paisley beginning Sept.13, she needs to be careful to avoid medical issues with her vocals cords because her crystalline voice and impressive range comprise this act’s most powerful instrument. At times she reminds of Martina McBride and that may lead to problems, as both artists tend to belt out everything they sing. Sometimes employing a softer touch is a nice change-up and easier on the voice.
They already have a good sense of fashion: All three eschew the grubby look many youthful acts embrace, as the guys wore button-up black shirts while flanking their sister, who was photo-ready in a spangled dress and high boots. Although Kimberly certainly doesn’t lack for charisma or spunk, and she’s a sensational singer to boot, as the front woman she should work on establishing herself as a personality, adding some spontaneity that doesn’t involve shouting out “New York” 11 times and throwing in a “Here we go” just as often. She slipped in a few good-natured barbs directed at her brothers; more of that could work for her as it has for Marie Osmond.
And like Marie and brother Donny, the Perrys seem content to be a little bit country and a little bit rock’n’roll. Yet the steamy “It Burns For You,” the fired-up gospel sound of “Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)” and, of course, their career hit (so far, anyway), “If I Die Young” all make a case for sticking closer to the down-home sounds of their native Tennessee. After a two-song encore made the running time of the show about an hour and 15 minutes, Kimberly told the overflow Chevy Court crowd, “You are country music.” Back at you young lady, and let’s keep it that way.