Happy Together - Coral Springs Center for the Arts - June 11

Happy Together

Starring The Turtles (Flo & Eddie), Mark Farner, Gary Lewis, Chuck Negron, and Mitch Ryder

Coral Springs Center for the Arts

June 11, 2014

Better Than: Watching an old YouTube video

At one time or another, we've all dreamed of living the life of a rock star, being able to walk out on stage every night to thunderous ovations from adoring audiences and later walking off into the arms (and most likely between the legs) of a gaggle of groupies. What better way to make a shitload of money for a couple hours of work? Especially when your work is really all about playing music with your friends?

That's the ideal of course, but most of the time that daydream involves a younger artist still in his or her prime, with the energy and stamina to leap about the stage and assume all sorts of well-planned, patented poses. What happens when you're a musician past your prime, one whose most recent hits are only played on oldies stations.

If you're a superstar in the category of, say, Paul McCartney or the Rolling Stones, it really doesn't matter; the demand is endless and you can still fill a stadium based on career accomplishments alone. If, on the other hand, your fan following is comprised mainly of senior citizens, then you get yourself a slot on a classic rock tour like Happy Together, and take your allotted time to relive your glory years by reprising your biggest hits.

See also: Gary Lewis on Happy Together: "I Just Wanted to Let My Fans Know I'm Not Dead"

At least that's the route taken by the Turtles, Chuck Negron (one third of Three Dog Night), Mark Farner (one-time singe, guitarist, and sex god with Grand Funk Railroad), Mitch Ryder (of "and the Detroit Wheels" fame) and Gary Lewis (now sans the Playboys). Indeed, each man had plenty to peddle hits-wise and, for the most part, each used his approximate half hour of stage time to capitalize on former glories and soak up some audience appreciation at the same time.

In the space of nearly three hours, the crowd that filled approximately three-quarters of the aesthetically pleasing Coral Springs Center for the Arts heard enough hits to stock the playlist of well-programmed, old school top 40 radio station, and enough jokes about senior citizenry to supply a classic Henny Youngman comedy routine.

That's to be expected of course; with the performers' average ages ranging between 65 (Farner) to a relatively ripe old 72 (Negron), cracks concerning failing hips, loss of memory, the ability to still eat solid foods, and the problems that accompany being hard of hearing more or less come with the territory. When yours truly paid a visit backstage afterwards to catch up with acquaintances like chief Turtle Howard Kaylan, a.k.a. Eddie of Flo & Eddie fame, and the ever amiable Mr. Lewis, I was somewhat surprised to find them already ensconced on their tour bus, decked out in their pajamas and quite literally ready for bed. "All I want to do is lie down," Kaylan confided after being coaxed out of his private compartment on the coach to greet a handful of patient fans.

Consequently, with a five piece band that backed each of the headliners, one can't escape the impression that the artists involved are merely going through the motions. Little seems to be required other than simply showing up, making a modest attempt at putting on an entertaining performance and simply cranking out a shortened set filled with a handful of hits that have long since earned them the adoration of their audience. And that's what each artist did for the most part, and, for the most part, did rather well.

Gary Lewis ("This Diamond Ring," "Count Me In," Everybody Loves a Clown") opened the show, sounding in good voice and looking like the most perennially youthful of them all. Mitch Ryder ("CC Rider," "Sock It to Me," "Devil With the Blue Dress On/Good Golly Miss Molly") followed, but in contrast to Lewis, sadly seemed the worse for wear, his voice practically drowned out by the band and his once breathless stage persona lacked the energy and exhilaration that gave him such such an electrifying reputation back in the day. Mark Farner ("Locomotion," "We're An American Band," I'm Your Captain/Closer to Home") on the other hand, still appeared recklessly resilient, ceaselessly strutting about the stage, his long locks tied together in a tidy ponytail while brandishing his axe like a guitar slinger half his age. Likewise, when Chuck Negron ("Mama Told Me Not To Come," "One Is the Loneliest Number," "Eli's Coming") restarted the show after a brief intermission, his still vibrant vocals, youthful bearing, and smart-ass attitude belied his stature as the tour's eldest participant.

As for the headliners, the two Turtles, Flo & Eddie -- the tour proves that even on this, the fourth time around, they can manage to be as entertaining as ever, albeit in a Zappa-esque sort of way. Certainly, they were the most lively of all the acts -- Farner being the possible exception -- and their onstage antics found them a tie-dye equivalent of Abbott and Costello (no kids, not Elvis Costello), Martin and Lewis (in this case the elder Lewis, as in Jerry), the Marx Brothers or, name your pick, most any famous comedy team that finds one partner belittling the other for acting the fool. In this case however, you have at least one -- that being Kaylan of course -- whose vocal ability is still sufficient to carry such timeless hits as "You Baby," "You Showed Me," the ever-effusive "Eleanor" and -- naturally -- the song boasting that resounding chorus of "dah dahdah dah dahs" -- the title tune itself -- "Happy Together." Even after bringing the entire cast back onstage, some with a change of shirt, the two colorful emcees still managed to shine above the rest.

As a result, despite the lack of ending mind-bending moments -- this is '60s schtick after all -- Happy Together proved once again it was capable of providing ample entertainment, amusement and more than sufficient musical memories. In a way, it's kinda like a day at Disney World... you already know what to expect but you can walk away delighted nevertheless.

Critic's Notebook

Personal Bias: I felt a certain kinship to nearly all the artists, having previously spent time individually with Kaylan and Volman and doing an interview with Gary Lewis last week and Mitch Ryder several years ago. Intending to catch up with all of them backstage after the show, I succeeded in gabbing with only two, Kaylan and Lewis. Still, that was nice enough.

The Crowd: As one might expect, it was mostly made up of seniors. Canes and walkers were in ample abundance, but regardless, many danced continuously throughout the show and exhibited enough energy to stand through entire songs and even interrupt by shouting comments to the artists on stage. Truth be told, this was as lively an audience as I've ever witnessed, even given those shows where the median age is a whole lot younger.

By the Way: At least once during each set, old performance clips of each artist, mostly dating back some forty or more years, unintentionally (or not) affirmed the age difference between then and now. Did it work in the artists' favor? Hmmmm... Not always.

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Lee Zimmerman