LYNN — Before The Beatles forever changed the music world with their innovative “Sgt. Pepper” album in 1967, the 45 rpm record was king. Two of the most successful singles bands in pop music history performed at a jam-packed Lynn Auditorium Friday night.
Tommy James, backed by his current tight six-piece Shondells, had a dozen top-40 hits from 1966 to 1970. Herman’s Hermits, starring Peter Noone, made the Billboard charts 18 times, with 11 of those songs cracking the top 10.
Both acts played nearly every one of their hit singles Friday night, leading a deliriously happy crowd on a thrilling trip down memory lane.
James, 71, was the headliner, and he opened with two of the Shondells’ best-loved songs: a funky, rocking “Dragging the Line” and the psychedelicized “Crystal Blue Persuasion.” Sweet five-part vocal harmonies made both sound remarkably like those old 45s on the Roulette label.
James’ bubblegum hits sounded great. “I Think We’re Alone Now” was performed twice, first as an acoustic version and later more successfully as the toe-tapping take that delighted us in 1967.
“Crimson and Clover” found audience members singing the chorus “Crimson and Clover, over and over” over and over. “Hanky Panky” remains one of the best, most simple songs in popular music. The band rocked it. James encored with three biggies: “Sweet Cherry Wine,” “Mirage” and a quick “Mony Mony,” another simple gem. During the main set, “Mony Mony” unfortunately meandered for nearly 20 minutes while James introduced the band and interacted with the crowd in VIP seats up front. The ensuing mob scene prevented James from venturing farther back in the venue.
Speaking of mob scenes …
James said his autobiography, “Me, the Mob, and the Music: One Helluva Ride with Tommy James and the Shondells,” is being made into a major motion picture. (This is one of the all-time great rock bios. Roulette was owned by crime boss Morris Levy, and the record label was a cover for the Mob.) Expect to see and hear Tommy James a lot in 2019. He also has an album of new material due for release next year.
Peter Noone, 70, and his top-flight four-piece Hermits opened with a crowd-pleasing hour-long set that focused on ’60s hits by his band and other British Invasion giants. It was a fun, nostalgic blast.
“I’m Into Something Good” and Sam Cooke’s “Wonderful World,” a hit for the band in 1965, started things off on winning notes.
Everyone sang along to Hermits’ hits “Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat,” “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter,” “A Kind of Hush,” “Listen People,” “Leaning on a Lamppost” and Ray Davies’ “Dandy.”
Covers of “Love Potion #9,” “Sea Cruise”/”Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu,” The Monkees’ “Daydream Believer,” and The Beatles’ “All My Lovin” were also well-received.
Noone is a spectacular, self-deprecating, storytelling frontman. He had the 2,000-plus in attendance hilariously screaming the words to “I’m Henry VIII, I Am,” a beloved song for many in the venue, which he genially pooh-poohed for its foolish “Second verse, same as the first” lyric. “Tonight, in Lynn, Massachusetts, I am singing this verse for the one-millionth time,” he joked.
The affable Noone said he considered performing in Lynn for the second time — Herman’s Hermits and Jay and the Americans co-headlined last year — the pinnacle of his career. He sang one song with the album jacket of HH’s first record covering his face while he danced around the stage. And a bit about his iPhone, which he keeps safe inside his trousers during a show, was priceless, as it shifted from his leg, to his naughty bits, to the stage floor. He lampooned Mick Jagger’s stage antics during “Jumping Jack Flash.” He even weighed in on the Brett Kavanaugh fiasco, by asking “Did you drink a beer in high school?”
In this supreme court of public opinion — the concert hall — attendees unanimously gave “yea” votes to Noone and the Hermits and James and the Shondells.