Last Night: Tony Orlando (Minus Dawn) at Hard Rock Live

Tony Orlando

June 27, 2007

Hard Rock Live at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino

Better Than: An Elvis impersonator

When you're a singer whose career is based on hit songs you can count on one hand and your 15 minutes of fame lasted five years, it's probably best to sprinkle the chart toppers throughout a show. Someone should tell Tony Orlando.

The singer, who became a household name with catchphrase tunes like "Knock Three Times" and "Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree," appeared at the Hard Rock Live at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino. Playing to a crowd that looked more condo than casino – average age was 55 plus – Orlando, 63, came out swinging his Top 40 chartbusters, one right after the other. "Oak Tree" came first, a sing-along of "Knock Three Times," "Candida" (no, not the sexual fungus; this one's about a girl), then "Sweet Gypsy Rose," and his final Billboard hit from 1977 "He Don't Love You."

Not even a half an hour into the set, the hits were wrapped up and I was waiting for, "Thank you ladies and gentleman, you've been a great audience."

So, where was the Dawn-less Orlando going to go from here? If your music is steeped in nostalgia, you reach back into the oldies bag and pull out a few nuggets. A tribute to Doo-wop yielded this off-hand comment: "I want to see Eminem rap that baby" then it was Phil Spector's "Spanish Harlem."

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Orlando's put on a few pounds and punctuates his on stage banter by dropping names and telling stories of "back in the day." There was talk of the good old days of television and playing stick ball in the old New York neighborhood of Hell's Kitchen. One of the oddest moments of the night, which got progressively odder, was when Orlando told the audience, "I lost 80 pounds. How'd I do it? On Nutri-System." Endorsement? I think so.

Orlando has a great stage presence, but his vocals aren't his strong suit. With no Dawn to back him up, he relies on his six-piece band featuring his brother, David, on keyboards. In another mind-boggling moment, the band busted in to Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" shaking the rafters and practically catapulting the early-bird crowd out of their seats.

Keyboardist Toni Wine (who penned hits including the famous Meow Mix commercial and was the singing voice for Betty/Veronica in "The Archies") gave Orlando a breather when she was in the spotlight for "Groovy Kind Of Love," a song she co-wrote with Carole Bayer Sager.

Continuing the mishmash of song selection, Orlando teamed up with the band on a strange arrangement of James Taylor's "Fire and Rain" morphed with Prince's "Purple Rain." Huh?

I decided it was time to leave when the conga line looked like it was beginning to form for Paul Simon's "You Can Call Me Al."

The night was nothing short of a confusing musical trip down memory lane. -- Michelle F. Solomon

Critic's Notebook

Personal Bias: I actually like the song "Tie A Yellow Ribbon" only because legend has it that it's based on an actual incident that happened on a bus headed for Miami.

Random Detail: Record producer Don Kirshner and singer Connie Francis were in the audience, along with Orlando's other brother who owns a window treatment company.

By the way: VH1 has signed Orlando to appear on this year's Christmas special hosted by Larry the Cable Guy, plus Kid Rock, Pam Anderson and Jenny McCarthy.

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