The Ventures have been so popular for so long, selling 100 million copies of their 250 albums since 1958, that it’s easy to forget how revolutionary they were when they helped invent the syntax of rock ‘n’ roll electric guitar.
Onstage at Alive at Five on another perfect Thursday, they seemed far less innovative than comfortable as they plumbed a mood of deep nostalgia, enlisting adherents of every age in their confident reach backward.
They sounded like a radio tuned mainly to the 1960s, and everyone seemed happy to cluster close and listen.
Founders Nokie Edwards and Don Wilson seemed grandfatherly, the former mostly seated silent behind his Fu Manchu mustache, the latter detonating the worst old-guy jokes heard onstage in years.
They started with their biggest hit, the still infectious “Walk Don’t Run,” slid into the graceful “Perfidia” and walked back to “Walk,” revved “Wild and Wooly” and luxuriated in the beautiful melody of “Blue Dawn” before Edwards, who started on bass, switched to guitar as Bob Spalding switched from guitar to bass.
As they moved in amiable, workmanlike ease from hit to hit, the sheer number of hits became cumulatively more impressive and their concise simplicity ever more striking, an approach shaped by tight 1960s Top 40 radio play lists.
Few songs stretched past three minutes and some completed their efficient verse-chorus-bridge-verse-chorus riff forays in far less time.
Edwards sounded tentative at times and missfired a few runs, but the mesh behind him of Wilson’s stalwart rhythm chops (he played lead only on the twangy country shuffle “Ghost Riders In the Sky”), Spalding’s oscillating bass and Leon Taylor’s four-on-the-floor drumming held him steady.
Wilson handled the only vocal, such as it was, in “Secret Agent Man” — chanting the title over and over.
As the last classic instrumental rock band still standing, the Ventures freely appropriated songs by now-defunct peers, making real treats of Santo & Johnny’s sweet “Sleepwalk” and the Animals’ arrangement of “House of the Rising Sun,” Edwards really rising to the occasion with his most intricate and spirited solo of the show.
Rocky Velvet rocked the place in velvety, retro style, slamming out 20 songs in less than an hour to provide a high-energy launch for the evening.
For nighthawks accustomed to multi-set bar gigs, they had no trouble focusing their considerable force into a sharp, well-paced opener that hit hard and kept hitting.
For a vintage feel, they jumped on Elvis’s “King Creole” and Gene Vincent’s “Rock, Baby, Rock Rock.”
But even originals from their debut album “It Came from Cropseyville” and another album now under construction had the fierce abandon of 1950s rockabilly. Guitarist Graham Tichy zoomed from each song’s familiar or familiar-sounding melody to something wild and free, and saved his best for last in the climactic “Come On,” a heavy-duty solo in a lightweight song.
Next Thursday’s Alive at Five show also promises a vintage feel: Herman’s Hermits featuring original lead singer Peter Noone, with the cover band New York Players opening.
Reach Michael Hochanadel at [email protected]
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Categories: Life and Arts