While doo-wop was largely overlooked as the musical styles it chronologically bumped up against were revived in the 1990s, the street-corner harmonies of groups such as the Chantels and Coasters have never lost their ardent fans. The Legends of Doo-wop, a package tour of acts from the 1950s and early ’60s, is a blissful, nostalgic trip through jukebox hits of yore that taps into a bond of innocence between performer and audience.
Highlights by far are the Chantels and Gene Chandler, who delivered powerful renditions of his hits “Rainbow,” “Groovy Situation” and “Duke of Earl” as well as an amped up reading of “I Only Have Eyes for You” that owed as much to Otis Redding as his red suit.
The Chantels, fronted by young Amy Ortiz but including three original members, displayed the timelessness of their hits “Look in My Eyes,” “I Love You So” and the chestnut “Maybe,” a tune that Keith Richards chose for inclusion on Rhino Records’ “Doo-Wop Box III.” The quartet has a glorious sense of timing and angelic voices; more than any other act, they exposed the roots to their high school act and still came off as classy contemporaries capable of much more than reliving the oldies.
The Cadillacs, now a trio fronted by Earl “Speedoo” Carroll, delivered his namesake hit as well as “Gloria” and “Zoom Went the Strings of My Heart” with well-tuned choreography and hilarious jokes to boot. The Penguins nicely segued from “Memories of El Monte” into “Earth Angel” and tossed in a spicy “Hey Senorita”; the Spaniels (“Goodnight Sweetheart”) and Marcels (“Blue Moon”) surrounded their single hits with other people’s music. Each act was greeted with a standing ovation at the end of its set.
Lone misfire was the Dell-Vikings’ Norman Wright, who ripped through his group’s catalog of hits — “Cool Shake,” Whispering Bells” and “Come Go With Me” — without concern for pace or harmony.
With the exception of Wright, who used his two sons on guitar and bass, accompaniment was provided by the Monte Carlos, which consistently gave the music the proper backing. KRTH’s Brian Berne was an excellent host.
A nearly sold-out house further evidences doo-wop’s staying power, which extends beyond oldies clubs and hot rodders. PBS brought in millions of dollars in pledges through the broadcast of a doo-wop revival concert; Rhino Records continues to package a doo-wop boxed set; and Pittsburgh’s PBS outlet is developing, with Rhino, a host of programs about the music. Is it too much of a stretch to suggest that the appeal of boy bands, with impeccable harmonies and tales of uncompromised devotion, tap into a forgotten innocence that lies at the core of so much great pop music?