Going to see the reunited Rascals at the refurbished Capitol Theater in Port Chester, in a production called Once Upon A Dream, is risky, as all long-delayed reconciliations are. If, as one member of the band says in the filmed portion of the show, every great band is something like a miracle (of timing, chemistry, acumen), then every triumphant — or even non-embarrassing — reunion is even more so. Add to the weight of aging (and the weight itself, midsection-wise) the burden of memory, the romantic glow that time gives the lost bands of our youth, the mixture of anticipation and anxiety in the audience, and it all can go terribly wrong. But Once Upon A Dream does almost everything right, and I’d say that’s due mostly to producer-writer-director Steve Van Zandt’s refusal to let anything tarnish the heritage of this band: he’s protected them, shaped the show around their strengths, programmed it as a fan who knows every important album cut, and even if some of the on-screen reenactments, narrative, and talking heads get a little clunky and on-the-nose, what comes across is something that you don’t see much of: joy. We know the acrimony that has kept this band apart for around four decades, the failed efforts in the past to get them on the same stage. We know all this, but through something like thirty songs, the original four Rascals, Felix, Dino, Eddie and Gene, blast through some of the best music made in the 1960s, and what’s striking is how jubilant it all is, cracks (in Eddie’s voice, in some of the musical transitions) and all.
So it’s a show — a BioConcert, the program calls it, and I hope that doesn’t stick, but what else can you call it? Concertography? — for fans by a fan, and it’s great that all four members are still with us to round the bases one more time (not many bands of their era can boast all surviving original members…Cream, The Blues Project, how many others?). But I want to get back to the Joy Factor. There was a period from around 1964 through 1967 when so much of pop music was this big pleasure bubble, and even the bands that snarled — The Stones, also visiting the east coast this week, The Animals, Them — had a kind of radiance, just painted in darker colors. There was flash and showmanship (listen to Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels, or Paul Revere & The Raiders), or shimmer (The Byrds, The Lovin’ Spoonful, The Hollies), or simply Everything (The Beatles, The Kinks. The Who). The Rascals were one of Our Bands in this circle, playing soul covers in bars, giving every local rock group repertoire tips (the band in my neighborhood played “What Is The Reason,” “Mustang Sally” and “Love Is A Beautiful Thing” in every set), sounding like the Big City. I haven’t seen David Chase’s movie Not Fade Away (for which Van Zandt curated the music), but whatever else it does, it’s pretty certain to take a stab at showing how transformative all this music was, the possibilities it presented, how much it mattered.
I don’t care for looking at the ‘60s through a soft-focus lens, reducing it to social cliches, and sometimes Once Upon A Dream does that sort of thing on the screen. But not in the music. Friday night at the Capitol, there were the four Rascals, and those exultant songs. “It’s Wonderful,” “A Beautiful Morning,” “Love Is A Beautiful Thing,” “A Girl Like You,” “A Ray Of Hope.” Come on up…and have a good time. Groovin’ on a Sunday afternoon. Even the songs of loneliness and doubt, “I’ve Been Lonely Too Long,” “How Can I Be Sure.” have happy endings, and “People Got To Be Free” is the most upbeat of civil rights anthems. I hadn’t seen the Rascals since 1967, when they were one of the bands on the bill at a Murray The K Show, along with Cream and The Who. The other night, I saw what remains of The Who on TV at the 12-12-12 concert, and I have to say, sorry Pete and Roger, this week you came in a distant second.