The Mamas and the Papas, in concert one night only, Lagoon, July 23 5 & 8 p.m.We forever try to defy Thomas Wolfe's "You can't go home again," but at Lagoon Saturday, a lot of people in their 40s came real close.
My only complaint was that the back-up band was a little too loud and just a little too rock. The Mamas and the Papas were always more unique folk singers than the psychedelic rock sound of that era. It's hard to believe that while three-fourths of the group were replacements the music was eerily familiar. While Cass Elliot is absolutely irreplaceable, Spanky MacFarlane is the closest thing to reincarnation. She has that irreverence, delicious sense of humor and the larger-than-life voice like Mama Cass.
"Julie!" you wanted to cry when MacKenzie Phillips bounced onstage with her father, John. The "One Day at a Time" girl ably replaces Michelle Phillips, who has gone on to star in movies and television. MacKenzie dedicated "This is Dedicated to the One I Love" to her 17-month-old boy, Shane. She has made a smooth transition to singer and seems very at home in front of a crowd.
Lagoon's public relations seemed to slip with this "Nostalgia Music Series." No press kit was available and the Lagoon spokesperson said that singer Scott MacKenzie was part of the original group. No way! He replaced Denny Doherty but came with his own pop mega-hit of the '60s, "If You're Goin' to San Francisco." At both the 5 p.m. and the 8 p.m. concerts, Scott MacKenzie sang this flower-power hit that John Phillips wrote.
And then there was Papa John. Like going to your 25th high school reunion, seeing John Phillips in 1988 means admitting that you no longer look like you did in 1966. The almost gaunt face is fuller and a loose Hawaiian shirt did little to hide a few extra pounds packed on his once slender frame. But the voice and the exuberance are vintage '60s. The long hair in a ponytail seems fitting for this troubadour of the free wheeling '60s.
From "Straight Shooter," to "I Saw Her Again," the layer upon layer of harmony sounded almost the same. "Creeque Alley" was a literate and witty `rap' that chronicled the history of the Lovin' Spoonfuls as well as the Mamas and the Papas. But the wind-up "Monday, Monday" and "California Dreamin' " really brought out the singers in the crowd. Urged to stand and sing along, the SRO audience did just that. Where you were in the mid-'60s? One fan who didn't miss a word as he sang along was Gene, 49. He told me he was a data processor who lived in Greenwich Village and worked on Wall Street in New York during the hey day of the group. "No matter the hostility or civil unrest, this music brought us together with its love and harmony," he said.
I would have loved to have heard "Go Where You Wanna Go," "No Salt on her Tail," or "Look Through My Window," songs that Phillips wrote that bring bittersweet memories to me with their existential lyrics. But this new group is happily stuck in that mostly upbeat time warp of the hits of the Mamas and the Papas.
Talking briefly after the concert, John Phillips spoke excitedly of a world tour they were embarking upon. South America, Canada, Germany, Japan, Australia and Hawaii are next on the travel agenda. "It's really a pleasure to see kids in Europe singing along with us," said Phillips, "and when we stop singing, these kids pick up right where we left off and sing the words they've memorized phonetically!"
I was a little saddened to think of someone with the songwriting talent of Phillips, endlessly singing what he wrote 25 years ago. But Phillips is no Fabian, content to stir memories as his hair recedes. The Mamas and the Papas will have a new album out in September and when John said a new album, John meant a new album. "I never wanted just a `boy-girl' band so the new album has songs about the third world, apartheid and the homeless," he said.
When asked what he thinks made the music of the Mamas and the Papas so enduring, Phillips said, "It was just about making your own life, living your own style." I was so excited to be talking with him about all that I have loved about this music over the years and where they're headed next, I never did find out what happened to Denny Doherty.