Monday, November 24, 2008

The Association Concert At The Suncoast Casino Las Vegas

The Latest Incarnation (Photo: Coast Casinos )

Last night my wife and I attended The Association's last concert of a three day booking at the Suncoast Casino. The showroom at the Suncoast Casino is unique in that it is laid out with tables and booths reminiscent of the old Vegas showrooms:

'The Suncoast Hotel and Casino Showroom is home to a wide array of Las Vegas shows. "Entertainment as it used to be" is the theme of this beautiful 500-seat showroom, a throwback to the showrooms of splendor that made Las Vegas famous. Table seating is provided for a variety of acts including top-name Vegas headliners. A permanent dance floor and a bar completely surrounding the facility add to the room's uniqueness. The most advanced lighting and sound techniques are utilized throughout the showroom.'

I have most all their CDs and some old vinyl LPs. I admit I was excited to see the latest incarnation of the band that I have not seen live since a concert at Albright College ( Reading, Pennsylvania ) circa 1967 when I was 18 or 19 years old. And then I remember that I missed a concert of theirs, had tickets but could not go, in the mid eighties at the Sands Hotel and Casino in the showroom where the Rat Pack once performed.

Last night at the end of the concert, as the last phrases of their final song "Windy" was being played and the song ended, and then the room lights came up abruptly ( darn it, no encore! )and then Russ announced that there would be autograph signing at the theatre entrance, I experienced a slight dizzy spell as I stood up too fast. I was pretty much fatigued ( maybe due to some medical symptoms or medication side effects from my CHF --- or maybe more likely from my emotional response to hearing my favorite "sunshine pop" groups of all time ... ) which did not allow me to stand and wait in an autograph line after the concert; and so regrettably I did not get to chat with the "surviving" members of The Association. I had to get my bearings, and my wife helped me to a place to sit down outside the showroom.

But let me say that for a much too short time during the concert I was transported back 40 years to my younger "daze" :-) What was so amazing about the current incarnation of The Association was the extreme energy and unique individual personality that the current group displayed during their seemingly non stop performance, and the instant rapport they had with the audience regardless of age; due mostly to Russ Guigere's stage antics and engagingly humorous banter. The audience responded, whether they were long time fans, younger and just acquainted with some songs through radio play, or maybe some who never even heard of the band ( is that really possible? ). Everybody responded to the familiar tunes and even all the less known or unfamiliar ones.

Highlights of the show were many, including "Enter The Young" which we learned was sung by The Association as the lead-off ( first band to perform ) at 1967's Monterey Pop Festival, along with "Along Comes Mary" --- for those of us who who remember the sixties and really were there! ( see video of original group at the Monterey Pop Festival in June, 1967, below ):

Another highlight of the show was "Never My Love" which is ( we learned ) the song with the second most US airplay in the 20th century ( and probably very many weddings). ( See the video below for a much more recent :-) concert performance of "Never My Love"):

And then if that was not enough, along came Larry Ramos singing his unbelievable second rendition of "Never My Love" in Hawaiian; he talked of his love for his wife ( of 43 years, I'm not sure ? ) and how it was his favorite song --- in a way that was so warm and so heartfelt. Now another amazing thing was Russ Giguere's boundless energy on stage -- if they have an elixir that allowed him to do those high kicks and dance around the stage and hit those high notes, I think they should bottle it like Geritol or Human Growth Factor :-) And when Jim Yester sang the groups signature song "Along Comes Mary" it sounded amazingly like the original. Jim's talents have hardly diminished over the years, and he is still very active in his own creations and creativity, particularly in his campaign against drug use following the personally painful loss of fellow band member and friend Brian Cole. But it seems lately that The Association has continued their reputation as the most "traveling" band of all time, filling the entire calendar with tour dates all over the world, which was the inspiration for their semi-hit "Six Man Band". They toured so much back in the sixties ( and several more decades ), that when they were overseas ( I think in the Philippines ) on tour, somebody requested during a concert that they play their latest hit "No Fair At All" and the band was unaware that it had become a hit there, they were so busy touring. And finally I have to mention that the band's early career cover and vocal rendition by Jim of Bob Dylan's "One Too Many A Mornings" completely blew my mind away... And did I also mention "Cherish"? ( How could I ever forget "Cherish" ? ).

The medley of sixties tunes from other groups that the band now admired, but jokingly said they were competing against back then, was a high point of the concert --- showing the band's ability to pay tribute to other bands; the most noteworthy example being The Mamas And The Pappas, singing a memorable version of "California Dreaming", and noting the relatively recent passing of band member Denny Doherty ( who died on January 19, 2007 ). It turns out that being in the Southern California music scene in the mid sixties, everybody in the famous and not so famous bands of the time, including The Beach Boys, really admired each other (in a competitive way ), knew each other, and sometimes borrowed freely from each others musical creations. What a vibe the planet was feeling, and particularly the West Coast of the USA was feeling in 1967! But there is so much about the Association as a vocal group that makes them originals in their own right, which earned them a well deserved induction into the Vocal Group Hall Of Fame in 2003.

Some trivia we learned during the inter-song babble ( which like the "empty cup", I enjoyed as much as the "punch" ) is that Jim Yester's brother Jerry was a member of the Loving Spoonful ( replacing Zal Yanovsky way back then ) and that Larry Ramos was once a skinny banjo playing member of the New Christy Minstrels prior to joining The Association. Larry lead the singing of the New Christy Minstrels' standard "Green Green" ( written by Minstrel members Barry McGuire and Randy Sparks and Peaked at # 14 in 1963 ) another great tune that Russ explained ( for the "younger" members of the audience ) was an example of the almost forgotten music genre called "folk rock". Ha, ha!! And, of course, the one "second generation" member of the back line is the keyboard artist Jordan Cole ( his father Brian Cole is an original band member who tragically died in Los Angeles, California of a heroin overdose in 1972 at the age of 29 ). Jordan was very apt at creating all the great keyboard solos ( which the rest of the group acknowledged and highlighted by turning their heads stage left towards him and practically pointing at him whenever he played "solo" ). Jordan also recreated all the sounds of the flute/reorder, horns and bells and whistle sounds typical in many Association tunes. Del Ramos ( Larry's brother ) is also in the back line and played the bass guitar as well or better than any professional bass player can, intentionally not really very animated, choosing not to steal the spotlight from the front line, but seemingly just taking his place in the band in a very professional manner as an accomplished bass player and great vocalist.

I laughed when Larry Ramos asked the audience to sing along and then invited us all to tour with the band, and quickly added "in Hawaii". So now, the subliminal message I got was I want to go to Hawaii sometime before I die. Maybe next year! (Editor's note: Mike is too ambiguous here. He does not intend to die next year. Nor does he wish to die in Hawaii next year, although there are obviously worse places one could die;-) And maybe I can also see The Association when they perform their 50th Anniversary Concert Tour! ( The Association - Next Generation). But seriously, I will never forget the concert last night, my wife was actually brought to tears ( in a good way, she gets almost as emotional as I do :-) --- thanks, guys --- and thanks for a most memorable concert!

More recent band history from their wikipedia article:

"Currently, the band includes Russ Giguere, Larry Ramos, Jim Yester(who rejoined again in 2007 as Bob Werner departed after an eight year stint), Del Ramos, Bruce Pictor, and most interestingly, Jordan Cole (son of Brian) on keyboards who joined in 1999. The Association still tours, playing up to 70 dates a year, mostly on bills with other similar styled acts of that era, like the Grass Roots, the Buckinghams, Tommy James, Gary Puckett, etc.

On June 3rd, 2008 Pat Colecchio, the group's manager from 1966-1974 and again in the early 80s, passed away of a heart attack."


Anonymous said...

What a great article and so thoroughly written, THANK YOU!

yorkiewoman said...

Very informative. Too bad he was unable to stay for the autographs. So pleased to hear they are performing together again.

MercurialMike said...

@Yoriewoman - Thanks, I have always liked their music because it takes me back to a more innocent time.

rocmaven said...

The Association will return to the Suncoast Hotel Casino in Las Vegas NV on Saturday & Sunday November 13 & 14, 2010.

MercurialMike said...

@rocmaven Yeah, thanks, now I'll have to write an update to this blog entry ! Maybe the band will let me interview them and take a few pictures ? See you there ! :)

JulieandPenny said...

The Association is a great band. I saw many of their concerts in the 1960s-1970s and the shows were the best. Jim Yester had the most beautifull tenor voice and the songs had meaning and thought. Everyone left the concerts pleased. Brian Cole was a favorite. He played the base and said really funny things in the act. My favorite songs were Along Comes Mary and Barefoot Gentleman.

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