Saturday, November 05, 2005

This Land is Your Land -- The Kingston Trio and The Brothers Four

Yesterday evening Judy and I drove down to Galveston Island for a concert by the Kingston Trio and the Brothers Four. The weather was great, and we got to the Island just about dark. The concert was at The Grand 1894 Opera House, and we were lucky enough to find a parking spot only a block and a half away. We had reservations at the Saltwater Grill, which is directly across the street from the theater, so we had a good meal before the concert. Judy had the shrimp scampi, and I (because I don't like seafood) had a nice steak fillet. After we ate, we walked across the street to the theater to discover that Doris Burbank was in charge of the ushers and the seating. Doris was the chair of the music department at Alvin Community College for many years, and I was her supervisor for about fifteen of them. It was good to visit with her for a while before we took our seats.

The Brothers Four opened the show. Some people have the opinion that the Brothers Four have a sort of "glee club" sound. Those people haven't heard this configuration. The only original member remaining in the group is Bob Flick, and when he came out on the stage, I got an immediate nostalgia rush. I saw the group about 45 years ago, maybe a little more, in Austin, but it was as if all those years melted away and I was a kid again. Bob Flick seemed to be enjoying himself as much now as he did then, and he looked as familiar to me as an old friend. The guys didn't make any effort to reproduce the sound of the original group, and they did only a couple of songs that are strongly identified with the Brothers Four. In fact, it was a little odd to hear them do "Sloop John B," which is a Kingston Trio song in my mind.

But I digress. The group's sound is great, probably better than the original's, and one of the current members (Mark Pearson) is a terrific instrumentalist. He can play things the original group couldn't touch, as he demonstrated on his banjo solo, a medley with "Because," "Tiger Rag," and a couple of songs I didn't recognize. The audience was wowed. I particularly liked the group's version of "Whiskey in the Jar," but my favorite of their set was the railroad medley that closed it out: "City of New Orleans," "Blue Water Line" (one of my favorites and better than the original), "Wabash Cannonball," "This Train," and "Rock Island Line." They brought down the house and got a standing O. I thought, Wow, it's going to be hard to the Kingston Trio to follow this.

But I was wrong. The Kingston Trio came out and from the first few notes of the first song ("Road to Freedom"), I knew they wouldn't have trouble following anybody. With Bob Shane's retirement a couple of years ago, there are no original members singing with the group now, though George Grove has been with them for thirty years or so. I thought I'd miss Bob Shane, and of course I did, but the current group is just flat terrific. If anybody has any doubts about how good they are, I say, just go and listen. Voyle Gilmore isn't working the sound board, but I think you'll be blown away by the fullness of the voices and the power of the instruments.

Bill Zorn has taken Shane's place in the middle, and he has an excellent stage presence, along with what I can only describe as a "big" voice. He was great on "They Call the Wind Maria," which is strongly identified in my mind with Bob Shane. The newest member is Rick Dougherty, who has a clear tenor that fit right in, and he harmonized flawlessly with the others. His solo on "M.T.A." was a real treat. So he's not Nick Reynolds. So what? He's Rick Dougherty, and he's damned good. The strumming by him and Zorn on this song was amazing to me. By the end, their hands were just a blur. George Grove did the solo work on "The Reverend Mr. Black," and this is one fine version of the song, much better to my ears than the hit record of long ago. The harmony on the chorus was killer. And speaking of killer harmony, the newest addition to the set list, "All the Hard Days are Gone," just knocked me out. Judy was bowled over, too, as she told me when we were leaving the concert. The Trio closed with "Worried Man," got a standing ovation, and came back for an encore with "Where Have all the Flowers Gone" that got another standing O.

People were still standing when the Trio and the Brothers Four came on stage to close the show with "This Land is Your Land," bringing the audience to its feet even before the song was over. People stood and cheered and begged for more. I'm convinced that the audience would have stayed for another hour, heck, maybe another week.
The show really was that good. I wish I had tickets to tonight's performance. I'd go back in a heartbeat.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this report! Those two groups have always been favorites of mine, also. And "Blue Water Line" is my favorite Brothers Four song.

Anonymous said...

I've seen the Trio twice this year in the Seattle area, and my experiences were much like yours. The first was a split bill with the Folk Reunion and the Trio. The Folk Reunion was great, but the Trio only got an hour and that just wasn't enough. They were absolutely fabulous for that hour, and all of us were thoroughly entertained. That was a wonderful configuration of the Trio. They did Trio music with verve, gusto, and renditions that weren't reminders of the original group, they were of the same calibre of the original group. Energy, stage presence, harmonies that were top drawer. Bobby hit Nick's high notes right on through the whole performance. George is an absolute guru vocally and instrumentally. Bill fit in like a glove replacing Bob Shane. Don't misunderstand me, there is no other Bob Shane. He's the man, the driving force, and his vocals are irreplaceable. However, since there is no other Bob Shane clone around, I doubt you could find a replacement for him more capable than Bill.

I saw them four months later with Rick in the group, and it was as fabulous as the previous concert. Tight harmonies, lots of energy, plenty of funny stories and jokes. It was everything a Trio performance has been since the first time I saw them in 1967. They may not be Nick, Bob, Dave or John, but they still get it done as well as any configuration of the Kingston Trio.