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Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Published: 2012/12/27
by Mike Gruenberg

The Rascals at the Capitol Theater

In My Life

In the late 60’s, New York City was the place to be and the place to see and hear all the latest music. You could go to a club called Ondine’s on the east side of Manhattan in the shadows of the 59th Street Bridge and see that new band from L.A. called the Doors. Or you could go to the west side at Steve Paul’s The Scene and see this tall and very talented guitarist named Jimi Hendrix or for very little money go to Central Park and see every major musical act perform under the stars on a moonlit night. And if you had no money at all to go to any of these places, you could walk the streets of Greenwich Village, hear some amazing street corner musicians and probably bump into a guy named Bob Dylan and any number of his musical colleagues walking down the street. It was a magical time for any fan of music. It was truly a renaissance of music.

The first time I saw the Rascals was in August of 1966 at the then named “Rheingold Concerts in Central Park” in NYC. Rheingold, a prominent brand of beer enjoyed in the New York metropolitan area at that time sponsored concerts in the park. I vaguely remember that those concerts cost $1 and they were held at the Wolman Skating Rink. Every major musical act of the time appeared at those concerts. During the summer of 1966, I attended a number of concerts in the park. The price was right, the venue was superb and the music was outstanding. Of all the acts I saw perform there, only two stand out in my memory as extraordinary to this day. One was Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels and the other was the Rascals.

The Rascals concert in August of 1966 was like nothing I had ever seen before. Their mix of blues, R&B, soul and rock was incredible. There was no filler; there was no unfortunate pauses in between songs, just straight ahead music by four musicians who knew how to put on a show. I was so taken by the band that night that I convinced a bunch of my friends to make the long trip out east from our homes in Queens to go to a bar in the Hamptons called “The Barge” to see the Rascals perform over the Labor Day week-end. It was a trip that was well worth it. Hard to believe, but they performed better at the Barge than they did in Central Park only a few weeks earlier.

Years later, well after the group broke up, I had the opportunity to see Felix Cavaliere perform as part of a “Legends of Rock’n’Roll” review and I had the good fortune to speak with him after the show. When I told him that I had seen the group at The Barge, he smiled a knowing smile that indicated to me how special those nights in the Hamptons were for the group and their fans.

The last time I was at the Capitol Theater in Port Chester was on June 19, 1970 ostensibly to see the Kinks. Unfortunately, the Kinks didn’t show up that night, but we did hear a new band called Grand Funk Railroad. To this day, I vividly remember that night because I had a ringing in my ears for about a week due to the incredibly loud volume of the music exerted by the band.

On Friday, December 14th, I returned to the newly refurbished Capitol Theater courtesy of the efforts of Peter Shapiro. After a 42 year, 5 month and 25 day absence, the old place looked pretty good. When I walked though those doors on Friday I must admit that the night in June all those years ago has become pretty much of a blur as I try in vain to recount those events at the Capitol Theater so many years ago.

As everyone knows, the Rascals were a favorite band of Little Stevie Van Zandt when he grew up in New Jersey setting his sights on being a musician. His musical tastes were influenced by 60’s bands like the Rascals. Stevie, like many of us were dismayed as to how long it took to get the Rascals inducted into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame, but even more disappointed that the band had fallen apart amongst a sea of acrimony, distrust and law suits. Fortunately, with the success of Mr. Van Zandt and his far reaching influence in the music business, he convinced the band to get back together again, first in a benefit concert a few years ago and now as a touring band.

There was a hum of excitement amongst the crowd when we first entered the theater. As expected, many people of my generation were there. In other words, there were a lot of people there from the NYC metropolitan area who, like me had seen the Rascals in their heyday, bought their records and like me, wanted to see them again, not for just the music, but to relive the times when we were all younger.

Mr. Van Zandt in interviews describes the concert as a “hybrid” event that mixes live performances with video clips and interviews. In between songs, on a big screen above the stage, video of Gene Eddie, Dino and Felix talk about their experiences before and during the run of the Rascals and give the audience a rare insight into the workings of the band. Even the most ardent of Rascals fan had to come away with factoids that they did not know. Of course, no 60’s concert would be complete without a light show and that too was an integral part of the overall pleasurable experience to see the Rascals perform once again.

For me, I was happy to hear that their sound, that after 40 years still is fresh and exciting. After all, we’re talking about four guys who have barely played together over these years and are at an age when most people are entering retirement. Fortunately for the public, retirement does not seem to be in the cards for the Rascals.

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