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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Alpha Girls

In the lovely and tasteful Damrosch Park at Lincoln Center (set just aside the Metropolitan Opera House), a free concert took place today amid the lovely and tasteful summer weather (hot but breezy and not humid). "She's Got the Power! A Girl Group Extravaganza" was, without a doubt, magnificent. My mind was blown even as I qvelled! Disco-philes should note that the girl group sound influenced disco music and the cult of the pop diva. Johnny Morgan touches on this in his brilliant book, Disco. (See my blog post, "Eye Candy.")

The girl group phenom was revived from 5 pm till just past 9 on Saturday, opening with The Exciters singing "Tell Him," followed by the legendary Arlene Smith of The Chantels, who came onstage in a motorized wheelchair. (Shades of Lady Gaga & Bette Midler! This has obviously become trendy, though Ms Smith was not wearing a fish tail.) Ms Smith's rendition of the classic "Maybe," frequently credited as the inception of the '60s Girl Group sound, was belted out in an even more electrifying manner than the famed original recorded version.

Baby Washington, Louise Murray of The Jaynettes ("Sally Go Round the Roses"), Nanette Licori of Reparata & The Delrons, and Beverly Warren followed, all looking and sounding in top form. Then, Toni Wine stepped out from the large back-up-girls line-up, where she stood alongside ex-Harlette and seasoned back-up veteran, Ula Hedwig (no angry inch that I know about), to do "Groovy Kind of Love," which she wrote.

Margaret Ross of The Cookies was next to appear, followed by Maxine Brown who sang the Carole King-penned, "Oh, No, Not My Baby" and then got a standing O for her bravado rendition of "Hold On, I'm Coming."

Next up: The Angels, thrilling the crowd with an extended version of "My Boyfriend's Back," while Barbara Harris of The Toys followed, ending with the Mozart-meets-Motown pop classic, "Lovers' Concerto."

Then, a break. The astounding thing about all this was how extremely smooth and professional it was considering the scope and relatively short time to pull this project together. Credit The Ponderosa Stomp for this entertainment miracle.

It was during this break that the crazy, old lady seated directly behind me made two fists, placed them at both temples of my head and tried to crush my skull in. I didn't mind because I was enjoying myself so much and I figured she was just misguidedly expressing her own enthusiasm and excitement about the show, but it did hurt. In fact, my head throbbed for about an hour -- and not from the sun or the music. I just tried to imagine it really was the '60s & she was a teenybopper on LSD. Things like this happened in those days, I've heard. Do your own thing, right? It was all groovy, I reminded myself. And, it turned out, that was right!

The second set brought out the star-attraction heavy-hitters. High-steppin' Lala Brooks, of The Crystals, is an absolutely underrated dirty secret of the music industry. My friend, Jade, whispered, "Her energy's like Tina Turner's!" Lala not only discovered the Fountain of Youth, easily looking half her age, but her Pilates classes have more than paid off. And her voice is a true wonder, bowling everyone over. We were up on our feet, cheering, mainly on Our Miss Brooks' command but she deserved every bit of our energy back as she worked her way through the Phil Spector oeuvre.

Lesley Gore, following, looked swell and svelte, her pipes in better shape than ever, still singing, at her age, about her boyfriend Johnny and that fucking party back in 1963. (I love it!) She wound up with the rousing "You Don't Own Me," bringing the crowd again to its collective feet in thunderous applause.

With the likes of Paul Shaffer, Lenny Kaye and Steve van Zandt joining the huge orchestra that was certainly more than well-equipped to recreate the Wall of Sound (along with impressively large back-up girls section), Ronnie Spector hit the stage. The Bad Girl of rock'n'roll always brings an element of female trouble to proceedings with her trademark girlish vocals (now honed to perfection) and sex-kitten moves. This evening was no exception. Ronnie paid tribute to Amy Winehouse when she did "Back to Black" (at this point, Ronnie knows a lot of dead people and she ain't afraid to exploit her memories of them), segueing seamlessly into the Ronettes'"The Best Part of Breaking Up." (See how she pulls this off?)

After another break, there was a beautiful tribute to Ellie Greenwich by our Girls, the highlights being Lala's rendition of "River Deep, Mountain High" that went to stratospheric heights. Her voice was controlled yet rough and wild, totally making me forget Tina Turner for the time being. Ronnie naturally did the show's finale: "Be My Baby!" And can you ever get enough of that? The perfect end to a perfect concert.

These are yesterday's raw talent, disciplined and refined, evolved to a point where they appear they could sleepwalk through their routines. Highly energetic, kinetic, they can do their own singing and dancing...and at the same time! Today's brood often claim they must lip-synch to their pre-recorded vocals if they're expected to bust a move!

We left the Park in a state of aural and emotional ecstasy. Of course, top-notch networker that she is, Jade managed to give her business card, as make-up artist, to one of Ronnie's handlers. In the next tent, Lala was signing merchandise to an adoring throng. Girl Power lives on!


  1. Great reviews; sounds like an incredible show. Wondering if any of the gals offered any comments from stage . . . and how big was the crowd? Great to know these gals can still razzle dazzle!

  2. Yes, the show was dreamy. As far as comments, I don't recall anything revealing being said. Lala said she was having hot flashes and Lesley, introduced as hailing from Tenafly, NJ, corrected that by saying: "I was raised in Tenafly but I'm from right here. New York. I was born in Brooklyn!" (I guess that WAS revealing & got a big hand,too.) The crowd capacity of Damrosch Park is 3,500 and every seat got taken with many standees. It was extremely well attended and was also broadcast on radio.