Monday, January 13, 2020

Something Good: Led by Amiable Peter Noone, Herman's Hermits Merrily Invade Waukegan -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Herman's Hermits starring Peter Noone
w/ opening act
Gary Puckett & the Union Gap
Genesee Theatre, Waukegan, IL
January 11, 2020

Based on what I love and value, the British Invasion has had a tremendous impact on my life.

Yet it took place before I was born.

And as such I may not completely understand what it was acutely like, or all the connotations.

I think everyone would agree that--as it pertains to rock 'n roll, as there was also something of cinematic invasion--the British Invasion represents the arrival in America of rock bands from the United Kingdom, or perhaps even more so, an influx of music made by such acts.

This was led by The Beatles--whose "I Want to Hold Your Hand" was released in the U.S. 56 years today--with the Fab Four themselves landing at JFK Airport in New York on Feb. 7, 1964.

By almost all accounts, the Beatles' first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on the evening of February 9, 1964--watched live by a then-record television audience of 73 million people--was the watershed moment of the British Invasion.

In the wake of Beatlemania, many other British bands became very popular in America, and I've come to love several.

With the caveat that, having been born in 1968 and kindling an interest in popular music about a decade later, my purview lacks "in-the-moment" acuity, I perceive the best bands of the British Invasion as being:
1) The Beatles 2) The Rolling Stones 3) The Who 4) The Kinks 5The Zombies 6) The Animals 7The Yardbirds 8) The Hollies
But I understand that, in not really arising until 1965, The Who were part of a second wave, and that the intensity of the initial British Invasion also included:
The Dave Clark Five, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Mannfred Mann and--perhaps especially--Herman's Hermits.
Fronted by a cute teenage singer named Peter Noone, who became perceived as "Herman," the Hermits had 14 songs hit the U.S. Billboard Singles Top 40 between August 1964 and February 1967, including "Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter" and "I'm Henry VIII, I Am," which both hit #1 in mid-1965.

A few more minor hits would follow this blitz, but Herman's Hermits' popularity seems to have ebbed well before Noone initially left the band in 1971.

To my wherewithal, HH's pop sound never significantly evolved in a way akin to the Beatles, Stones, Who, Kinks and Zombies, nor did Noone or other band members go on to form/join other famed projects, as did Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page of the Yardbirds, Graham Nash of the Hollies and Steve Winwood of the Spencer Davis Group.

Unlike most contemporaries cited, Herman's Hermits did not write their own songs, and perhaps for that reason and others mentioned, they have not been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Gary Puckett
Still, they were an important part of the British Invasion--for awhile in late '64 and early '65, it seems they may have been bigger in America than any import besides the Beatles--and even if a bit belatedly, my appreciation for their place in rock history brought me to the grand Genesee Theatre in Waukegan on Saturday night, accompanied by friend Dave, who gratefully did the driving.

Fortunately, the falling snow and high winds didn't mess with our trek too much, nor kept over 2,000 nostalgic fans from getting to the Genesee, but we learned that the weather had impacted both bands on the bill in their travels to Waukegan.

First up, and consequentially starting about 15 minutes late, were Gary Puckett & the Union Gap.

As is Noone with this version of Herman's Hermits, Puckett is the sole original member of his '60s outfit, an American one that still distinctively dresses in Civil War Union Army uniforms.

Although I had long heard the name Gary Puckett & the Union Gap and recognized some of the hits they played, I can't claim to be all that familiar.

In watching Puckett, I couldn't help perceive that most baristas, flight attendants, hotel clerks and whomever else encounters the fit, articulate, long-haired senior citizen on a regular basis would likely be oblivious to his significant rock stardom 50+ years ago.

Though he seems like a hip elder, his vibe also feels cordially unassuming.

But--also like Noone--he still seems to be having a lot of fun on stage, and not only is he an engaging storyteller, his voice still sounds great at 77.

Opening with "Lady Willpower," one of the band's two #2 hits from 1968, Puckett & co. proceeded to pay homage to some pretty famous songwriters & artists whose songs GP&UG had recorded way back when: Neil Diamond ("Kentucky Woman"), Sonny Bono/Sonny & Cher ("You Better Sit Down Kids") and Jimmy Webb/Glen Campbell ("By the Time I Get to Phoenix").

As Herman's Hermits would do likewise, this provided good context to appreciate the heyday of Gary Puckett & the Union Gap, even beyond their own hits--"This Girl is a Woman Now," "Woman Woman," "Young Girl"--which rounded out the set.

Prior to Puckett's set, Peter Noone had come onstage briefly with a show host for a prize drawing, and--dressed down in jeans--he looked a bit paunchy and also somewhat gimpy.

But for the headlining set, adorned in a 3-piece blue suit, it was possible to perceive the frenzied teenage screams he elicited when the Hermits first enchanted America.

If Wikipedia and my math are correct, Noone was only 16 when the band's debut single--"I'm Into Something Good"--hit the U.S. charts in late 1964.

That song, written by Carole King & Gerry Goffin, opened the show by Noone and his four current Hermits--apologies for not knowing their names, but all were fine musicians--followed by HH's hit take on Sam Cooke's "Wonderful World."

Cheeky from the get-go, Noone spoke of not being able to read the setlist on the floor, and while most of Saturday's selections seemed to match those of recent shows, it seemed that the singer was somewhat ad-libbing the order they were played.

And along with many Herman's Hermits gems--"Dandy," "A Must to Avoid," "Just a Little Bit Better," "Silhouettes," "Can't You Hear My Heartbeat," "Jezebel," "Sea Cruise" and a lovely "Listen People" with Noone in fine voice--the appreciative crowd heard a variety of other British Invasion songs (and those from roughly the same time period).

These included the Beatles' "All My Loving," the Stones' "Jumpin' Jack Flash"--with Noone aping Mick Jagger--Mannfred Mann's "Do Wah Diddy Diddy," the Monkees' "Daydream Believer" and Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire."

Noone had fun interacting with a woman at the edge of the stage who was interpreting the lyrics into sign language--"How do you do "Do Wah Diddy Diddy?"" he asked--and in a variation on the de-aging process recently used in Martin Scorsese's The Irishman, at one point glibly sang "Leaning on a Lamp Post" from behind a teen idol poster of himself a fan had brought.

He also played a bit of guitar while localizing lyrics to a song seemingly called "Travelin' Light," then still with the six-string took "No Milk Today" a bit more seriously.

A nice poignancy was also brought to "The End of the World."

Though I've long-known "Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter," it was only in prepping for the show that I came to know Herman's Hermits' other #1 smash, "I'm Henry VIII, I Am," and both were loads of fun (though stylistically rather different).

"There's a Kind of Hush" ended the fully enjoyable 75-minute set.

Though "oldies acts" are most of what I see these days, this wasn't a rock concert on par with the energy, excitement and breadth of musical excellent Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones and The Who--all of whom I saw again in 2019--still bring.

So while it was lots of fun and my knowledge of and appreciation for both Herman's Hermits and Gary Puckett & the Union Gap--to whatever extent the current lineups do them justice--were expanded, @@@@ (out of 5) seems about right.

But I also appreciate that for those about Peter Noone's age and older, who acutely recall him from the '60s, the visceral excitement of seeing him perform might be nearly on par with Paul McCartney.

He was part of the world changing, forever, and though this Herman's Hermits show was far more exciting than a history lesson, I was thrilled to be taught that much more about the British Invasion.

And to be--yet again but also somewhat newly--into something good. 

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