“We don’t call them oldies – we call them classics,” said singer Darlene Love during her performance at the annual Golden Oldies Spectacular at Proctors Theatre on Saturday night.
You could say the four-act bill was largely an oldies show for the first two hours, as Bobby Rydell, Lou Christie and Freddie Cannon regaled the packed crowd with songs and stories from decades’ past, reminding the audience – many of whom came of age in the 1950s and ‘60s – how good they had it back then.
But the irrepressible Love came onstage following a brief intermission and interjected a whole lot of energy and some of-the-moment currency into the proceedings, as she did last year when she stole the show during the 2015 golden oldies line-up at the Schenectady theatre.
It helps that the 75-year-old Love has a relatively new album out. Last year the ‘60s girl-group icon – who rarely got a star billing of her own – released “Introducing Darlene Love,” produced by her friend Steven Van Zandt (of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band) to give Love the full-scale exposure she deserves.
From the newer material she offered up Van Zandt’s passionate and rollicking political caution tale “Among the Believers,” Linda Perry’s retro ballad “Love Kept Us Foolin’ Around” and Elvis Costello’s shimmery standouts “Forbidden Nights” and “Still Too Soon to Know.”
Wearing glittery pants that reflected light like a disco ball, her voice powerful and clear, Love didn’t short the crowd on the classics either, reaching back to the archives for some memorable songs from her days in Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound crew, when she sang in the Crystals and cut a few tracks under her own name but never got the credit she deserved.
That included “(Today I Met) the Boy I’m Gonna Marry,” “Da Doo Ron Ron” and a fantastic-sounding version of the Crystals’ “She’s a Rebel,” which her three stellar backup singers bolstered with a swinging R&B vocal groove. The latter tune “started it all” after Love met mercurial producer Phil Spector in 1962, she said onstage, lamenting that the song sold over three million copies yet “nobody got paid.”
“You know, payback is a mother,” she said of Spector, now in prison for murder. “After all, look where I am and where he is.”
The three previous acts offered a more anodyne version of the ‘60s. “Everything was so easy, so simple back then,” said former teen idol Bobby Rydell, who regaled the crowd with tales of meeting stars like Frank Sinatra and Bobby Darin during his days as a teenager on the cabaret circuit.
Seated on a stool, looking dapper in a blazer and jeans, Rydell gave an impassioned plea for organ donors (a double transplant saved his life in 2012) and sounded in fine form on his vintage, swinging recordings “Forget Him,” “Sway,” “Wildwood Days,” “Volare” and Darin’s signature hit “Mack the Knife.”
The unsung heroes of the night were the members of the house band – including a five-piece horn section – who gave on-point backing throughout the show.
“Lightening” Lou Christie worked hard to hit the high notes on his falsetto-filled repertoire, hamming it up lounge-singer style on “I’m Gonna Make You Mine,” “The Gypsy Cried,” the once-banned “Rhapsody in the Rain,” and the lecherous “Lighten’ Strikes.”
Marking his first-time appearance on the Proctors stage, the entertaining Freddie “Boom Boom” Cannon opened with no-frills, unsentimental versions of his rock and roll hits, including “Tallahassee Lassie,” “Where the Action Is” and “Palisades Park.”