Peter Noone, aka Herman, may have a new set of Hermits, but at Alive at Five at Riverfront Park in Albany Thursday night, it didn’t really make a difference.
This is especially true given that Noone was really the only member of the Hermits who actually performed on the group’s seminal ’60s and early ’70s recordings. But even still, his voice hasn’t changed all that much; he still sounds like the shiny-faced 15-year-old he was during the band’s heyday.
If anything, the live show is likely stronger today than it would have been with the original band because Noone has found some stellar players to back him up. Drummer Dave Ferrara and bassist Darren Frate provided a solid backbeat to Noone’s crooning, while Rich Spina’s keyboard duplicated entire orchestras at times. Vance Brescia’s lead guitar conjured up plenty of jangle on Hermits hits such as “No Milk Today” and just enough bite on a Yardbirds cover, “For Your Love,” halfway through the set.
Speaking of covers, Noone proved to be quite the jukebox, hitting spot-on imitations of Johnny Cash (“Folsom Prison Blues”), Tom Jones (“It’s Not Unusual”), Mick Jagger (“Start Me Up”) and Davy Jones of the Monkees (“Daydream Believer”). He was quite the comedian as well, performing set opener “Heartbeat” with an old Herman’s Hermits vinyl record sleeve covering one side of his face and cracking wise between songs throughout the evening. Although the skies looked gray and a few drops of rain spattered here and there, Noone provided enough of a sunny attitude to light up the amphitheater throughout the band’s set.
The real draw was the Hermits’ hits, which Noone delivered in spades. “Silhouettes,” one of the highlights of the Hermits’ recorded oeuvre, was perhaps the best performance of the evening, receiving one of the largest audience responses. Noone turned “Something Good” into a rousing audience sing-along, even if the audience forgot the words at times.
The band saved two of its biggest hits for last. Noone and Brescia turned “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter” into a slow build, with the rest of the band joining in after the second verse. A false start to “Henry the Eighth, I Am” included lyrics from Ramones and Sex Pistols songs mashed together, a clever reference to the song’s ultimate influence on those two punk rock groups. The song ended with Noone conducting the audience in chants of “H-E-N-R-Y.”
The New York Players got things started inauspiciously enough. As far as cover bands go, this was probably one of the better ones, although the sound balance was a bit off. Stephen Orsini’s bass playing, although quite good, began to grate after a while, as it threatened to swallow all other noise coming from the stage.
The group ran through a varied set list that included a sped-up version of “Respect,” sung powerfully by Tracy Corry, and a faithful runthrough of Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al.” The New York Players were at their best on upbeat numbers such as these, prepping the audience for Noone’s full throttle workout.