Judge Steve Evans is dismayed to see the legacy of Jerry Lewis rearing its head in this nostalgic concert disc.
This pop confection doesn't shine for me anymore.
Gary Lewis and the Playboys perform their best-known hits in this revival concert. Neither the band nor the tunes have aged well in the four decades since they last made the charts. In his heyday, Lewis delivered sturdy, heartfelt vocals on sweet ballads and bubblegum rock. As an oldies act, his nasal whine, shockingly similar to his father's distinctive voice, grates on the nerves in stereo.
But back in the day, specifically 1964, the son of comedian Jerry Lewis inked a contract with Liberty Records and took off like a bottle rocket. Gary and his band scored a number one hit the following year with "This Diamond Ring," a jilted lover's lament and easily the group's best-remembered song. Cash Box magazine named Lewis "Male Vocalist of the Year" in 1965. His reedy vocals beat fellow nominees Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley.
That was then. Today the best that can be said is that the DVD offers clean audio and video. The camera stays focused on the musicians, with a minimum of distracting cutaways to the audience. Problem is, there's just no getting beyond the cringe-inducing sound of Lewis's voice. Billed as part of the Pop Legends Live concert series, Gary Lewis and the Playboys offers a respectable sampler of the band's music. However, the real value can be seen in the maddeningly brief clips of the group at its peak in 1965, before the ravages of time would dilute their vocals and date their tunes. The DVD might provide a pleasant evening for retirees in the mood for some innocuous nostalgia. Then again, the original lineup has changed quite a bit through the years, with a new guitarist and drummer. Gone is original lead guitarist Tom Tripplehorn, father of actress Jeanne Tripplehorn (Basic Instinct, Very Bad Things). The Playboys are the same band in name only.
"A Conversation with Gary Lewis" is the lone extra on the disc. This material was apparently culled from a much longer interview, highlights of which are interspersed with the concert footage on the main program. Among the revelations, the singer says John Lennon was his favorite Beatle.
Reminiscing about the glory days, Lewis recalls his father's encouragement and shares some of the strategies that even the son of a celebrity had to follow to score AM radio airplay. The interview is punctuated with video of father and son from the early 1950s and a clip of Gary and his band playing the Ed Sullivan show. Turns out the front man for Gary Lewis and the Playboys was originally the drummer. On this oldies tour, he's moved to front and center on rhythm guitar. In concert the old exuberance is still there—it never seems like Lewis & Co. are just going through the motions—yet there's something vaguely creepy about a man in his late fifties warbling about Little Miss Go Go while shaking his ass in black-leather pants.
Of the 11 tracks on this disc, Lewis was a cowriter on two. Leon Russell (!) collaborated on more than half the songs included here—all written 40-plus years ago—a surprising bit of trivia that illustrates the value of sticking through the closing credits.
Gary Lewis and the Playboys still tour. His official web site (linked in the sidebar) lists more than a dozen dates slated nationwide through the end of this year. So let us be clear: No one begrudges an aging pop star's desire to earn a few bucks and take another bow in the twilight of his career. But only the most devoted pop music fan should feel compelled to trade money for this disc.
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