in performance: felix cavaliere’s rascals

Felix Cavaliere

Add to the list of pop pioneers still doing their legacies proud as they zero in on that once-unfathomable rock ’n’ roll age of 70 the name of Felix Cavaliere.

Last night, during the first of two shows at the Grand Theatre in Frankfort, the mainstay vocalist, keyboardist and singer for The Rascals, who hits the big 7-0 in November, put an ageless vocal assuredness that was the vehicle for one of the most engaging pop-soul bands of the’60s on display. While his singing was a touch less meaty and tireless than it was during The Rascals’ heyday, Cavaliere’s vocals nonetheless displayed a tone full of crisp detail and surprisingly youthful vigor.

The brotherhood anthem People Got to Be Free, for instance, still revealed a gospel foundation both loose and urgent while the radio classic Groovin’ remained full of a summery radiance and accessibly that didn’t sound the least bit shopworn.

This wasn’t a revelatory performance by any means. Cavaliere and a very functional three-piece Nashville combo (collectively dubbed Felix Cavaliere’s Rascals) devoted the 75 minute show exclusively to hits from the golden age of The Rascals, even to the point of including an initial hit that Cavaliere didn’t even  sing lead on (1965’s I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out y Heart Anymore, with bassist Mark Prentice taking on vocal lines originally created by Eddie Brigati). As such, this was a nostalgia show, pure and simple, aimed at honoring the plentiful hit parade The Rascals constructed between late 1965 and mid 1968.

One could argue that Cavaliere shortchanges himself somewhat by adhering to this type of performance game plan, as some of The Rascals’ greatest music came during the jazz and jam experimentation of its later recordings. Similarly, his first two solo albums (1974’s Felix Cavaliere and 1975’s Destiny) were artful updates of The Rascals’ blue-eyed soul sound.

But for a concert built around songs he has been singing for well over four decades, the music on display last night sounded remarkably fresh. Propelling the arrangements on a Korg keyboard (which covered the piano and brass accents of the hits, even though it meant supplying a retro sound more reflective of the ‘80s than the ‘60s) and Hammond organ, Cavaliere ignited hits both obvious (A Beautiful Morning) and overlooked (You Better Run).

Several of the tunes were oddly augmented with snippets of cover tunes by contemporaries of The Rascals, like the fragments from the Motown staples My Girl and Just My Imagination that were tacked onto the end of Groovin’ and the expanded oldies medley unleashed during the show closing Good Lovin’.

Such trappings were unnecessary, though. The honest, youthful cheer of Cavaliere’s singing and the agelessly soulful charm of the vintage Rascals hits already had all the bases covered.

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