"Hey, man, is that Freedom Rock? ... Well, turn it up, man!"-TV ad (1987)
Remember LPs? Remember lying splayed on an overstuffed bean bag chair, aromatic substances hazing both your consciousness and the atmosphere of your room, eyes closed as your latest album purchase made sweet, sweet love to your earholes? Readers who came of age on digital downloads may be totally unfamiliar with these devotions to the pantheon of rock, but I miss them. In our misspent youth, an album from Tower or Montgomery Ward was a major purchase; it deserved to be savored. We took it in through pillowy headphones, not plastic earbuds, and it was crafted accordingly. I'm the farthest thing from a Luddite, but I miss those hours spent adoring popular music. Today it all seems so throwaway. In 40 years, how many present-day MP3 "classics" will merit resurrection? "Whip My Hair?" "Call Me Maybe?" "Friday?" Good luck.
Rock of Ages aside, there's little doubt in anyone's mind that 1967-1977 represented the pinnacle of pop. Harlequin Productions chose 30 instantly recognizable hits from the Me Decade - plus a Joni Mitchell song I'd never heard before - to fill its revue, Summer Session, without ever touching Queen or Elton John. Other than "Iron Man" in the house music, Black Sabbath never makes an appearance, nor does any black artist. (No Stevie Wonder or James Brown? Sacrilege!) The exclusion of black artists like P-Funk or Earth, Wind & Fire seems doubly surprising given the casting of Jesse Smith, a phenomenally loose-limbed and charismatic African-American singer and dancer.
Female artists, however, are richly represented, including a double shot from Heart. I had the pleasure of catching Heart live a few years ago; they're a force to be reckoned with. It'd take a powerful set of lungs to take on Ann Wilson's lusty howl, and Harlequin regular Alison Monda is nowhere to be seen. Luckily, Harlequin newbie Lindsey Larson is primed and ready. She's a better singer than dancer (not that those spike heels were helping), but Lord, what a singer. She wields the muscular pipes of a Wilson or Debbie Harry.
Pint-sized Jessica Low choreographed the show and sings beautifully; her acoustic "Landslide" is a highlight. Three songs later, she unloads on "Because the Night," a Springsteen slammer covered ably by Patti Smith and Natalie Merchant. (Speaking of covers, many audience members were confused by the inclusion of "Runaway," the Del Shannon wailer from 1961, but Bonnie Raitt's bluesy version charted in 1977.) Above all, from his first solo on, Summer Session is Christian Doyle's star turn. He never misses a note, braving soulful, affecting Stones and Paul McCartney numbers. He's a talented actor, as witness his Chaplin in Stardust Serenade, but this takes Doyle's presence to a whole ‘nother planet. He emerges as an earnest rock demigod.
The quality of video accompaniment dropped since the departure of Jill Carter, as it over-relies on repetition and screensaver squiggles. The band and sound design, however, are first-rate, as are Ingrid Pugh-Goodwin's costumes. Lead guitarist Daven Tillinghast not only looks uncannily like George Harrison, but he also hits every finger-pickin' note of Mark Knopfler's intricate solos on "Sultans of Swing."
Turn it up!
[Harlequin Productions, Summer Session: Set in the ‘70s, $25-$38, Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. through July 22, 202 4th Ave. E, Olympia, 360.786.0151]