The sly reference to the Turtles’ megahit in this tour’s title doesn’t begin to tell the story. Gary Lewis (Gary Lewis & the Playboys), Mitch Ryder (Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels), Mark Farner (Grand Funk Railroad), Chuck Negron (Three Dog Night) and Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan/aka Flo & Eddie (of the Turtles) have banded together for a tour which one could label “retro pop ” if the music weren’t so damned good. These groups have sold a gazillion records, and they made it abundantly clear how they did it in the three hours we spent together.
Opener Gary Lewis sang a few of his hits, including “This Diamond Ring,” but admitted that he was ill and suffering vocal problems, so we’ll reserve judgment. Mitch Ryder told engaging stories between his hits, including how his future father-in-law, a Georgia minister, literally burned Ryder’s records—along with Stones and Beatles records—before he accepted his daughter’s beloved. One of Ryder’s hits, “Devil in a Blue Dress,” probably ruffled the good reverend’s feathers then, and, happily, Ryder’s present-day delivery would still ruffle those feathers now.
Mark Farner, the firecracker of the tour, exploded across the stage, dancing and wielding his guitar like the axe that it is. He began his portion of the show blasting “We’re an American Band,” Grand Funk’s first Number One hit, and, refreshingly, told the audience that his T-shirts and other merch are made in the USA. Farner penned many of Grand Funk’s tunes, including “I’m Your Captain,” which he dedicated to our troops before singing it to close out his set. This show-stopper didn’t pause once during his high-energy performance, and calls for an encore went unheeded: sadly, sometimes the show must go on.
And on it did go, with Chuck Negron, the voice of Three Dog Night, a band with 21 Top 40 hits. Pre-heated by Farner, the audience sang along to “Shambala,” Randy Newman’s quirky classic “Mama Told Me (Not to Come),” and other 3DN tunes before belting out the infectious “Joy to the World.”
Last but hardly least, Flo & Eddie, the two irrepressible lights from the Turtles (a group that once knocked the Beatles out of Billboard’s Number One spot) brought their unique blend of zaniness and music to the stage. These two very bright nutcases (they’ll take that as the compliment it is) specialize in tongue-in-cheek patter and memorable hits. Anyone in the audience who didn’t remember the Turtles’ hits got a refresher course, from “It Ain’t Me Babe” on through “Elenore,” “She’d Rather Be With Me” and, of course, “Happy Together,” as well as comic discourses in the Frank Zappa tradition.
I loved the finale, when every act came back on stage to lead the ensemble in snippets of their songs. Mark Farner stood out like a rock star at a high school faculty meeting, but it was clear that no matter how many backyard BBQs and PTA meetings these artists have attended since their Ed Sullivan and stadium tour days, a great song will never be anything less, and hearing the hitmakers play their songs is a privilege…and a great evening out.