Sunday, March 1, 2020

The Wild Honey Orchestra at Alex Theatre, 2-29-20 Concert Review

Wild Honey Orchestra performing "Do You Believe In Magic"
I had been hearing about these Wild Honey Orchestra shows for several years, where a group of incredibly talented musicians gather to celebrate the music of a particular band. In 2018, it was Buffalo Springfield. Last year it was The Kinks. The concerts are benefits for The Autism Think Tank, with all the musicians donating their time, so in addition to these shows being good times, they are also for a good cause. So what’s not to love about these events? I had intended to go the last couple of years, but one thing or another kept me from attending. When it was announced that this year’s concert would be a celebration of The Lovin’ Spoonful, I got excited, but was busy and kept putting off purchasing tickets. Until suddenly it became clear that The Lovin’ Spoonful themselves would be performing at the gig. How could I miss such a rare treat as a Lovin’ Spoonful reunion (though they kept calling it a “get together”)? By the time I bought tickets, the orchestra section was completely sold out. Gone also were all the tickets for the terrace section, and in fact most of the balcony seats had been claimed. We ended up in the last row of the center section of the balcony, directly in front of the lighting booth. But no matter. I was just happy to be in the room, and figured being in the last row would allow me space to dance without bothering anyone.

They were a little delayed in opening the doors for the show, and so a fairly large crowd had gathered on the sidewalk in front of the venue, most of the people being my age or older. It was a little after 7:30 p.m. when the doors finally opened, for a show scheduled to start at 8. A merchandise booth sold T-shirts and posters for the event. Upstairs were tables with signed records up for auction, helping to raise even more money for The Autism Think Tank. By the way, if you have trouble walking or tend to lose your balance, the balcony is not for you. At 8 p.m., it was announced that the show would start in a few minutes because there had been an accident and they were awaiting the arrival of paramedics. No further word was given on that, and a few minutes later a video was shown explaining what The Autism Think Tank is all about.

John Sebastian was the first musician to take the stage, followed by several others. “So we’ve got to start this at the beginning,” John told the crowd, and led the musicians in a cool rendition of Mississippi John Hurt’s “Coffee Blues,” the song that gave The Lovin’ Spoonful their name. Then more musicians came out for the second song, “Lovin’ You.” Throughout the show, there were so many changes, with musicians coming and going, that it was damn near impossible to keep track of who was on the stage at any given moment. Steve Boone and Joe Butler performed on several songs at the beginning of the show, and then would return for certain songs. John Sebastian played on the majority of the tunes performed at the show, which was great. He seemed to be having a blast. Joe Butler sang lead on “Full Measure,” a song from Hums Of The Lovin’ Spoonful (the album that also contains “Lovin’ You”). It was after that song that Steve and Joe left the stage, and Dennis Diken (drummer for The Smithereens) then sang lead on “Butchie’s Tune.” That was followed by “It’s Not Time Now,” sung by Iain Matthews, and “Fishin’ Blues.” Then John Sebastian talked about getting a gig in Nashville, which led of course to “Nashville Cats,” featuring some nice work by Dave Pearlman on pedal steel. Nick Guzman sang “There She Is,” with The Muffs’ Ronnie Barnett and Roy McDonald on bass and drums respectively.

As you’ve likely gleaned by now, this was not just a greatest hits type of affair. I knew that going in, but was still delightfully surprised by some of the song choices. One of those surprises was “Pow!” I didn’t expect to hear anything from the What’s Up, Tiger Lilly? soundtrack (except “Fishin’ Blues,” which was also on Do You Believe In Magic). John Sebastian played harmonica on that one. That was followed by “Darlin’ Companion,” with Bill Mumy on vocals, and Elliot Easton (from The Cars) on guitar. This song had a false start, as they were still working things out. But that was certainly part of the charm of the night. Though there had been a couple of nights of rehearsals, the whole feel of the show was still pretty loose, which I appreciated. Cindy Lee Berryhill delivered a wonderful rendition of “Money,” which featured no fewer than three banjo players, as well as a typewriter. This show was full of highlights, and this song was certainly among them. Marshall Crenshaw then came out to perform “Rain On The Roof,” another surprise. It wasn’t a surprise that he performed, but his choice of songs certainly surprised and delighted me. He was accompanied by a harpist. Thomas Walsh (from Pugwash) gave us a really good rendition of “Coconut Grove.” Then Mark Eitzel sang “Didn’t Want To Have To Do It.”

In addition to What’s Up, Tiger Lilly, The Lovin’ Spoonful did the soundtrack for You’re A Big Boy Now, directed by Francis Ford Coppola. And actually the only song that I hoped to hear last night which wasn’t played was “Girl, Beautiful Girl,” from that soundtrack. However, Skylar Gudasz gave us a wonderful take on that album’s title track, backed by Elliott Easton on guitar and John Sebastian on guitar. We then were treated to a second song from What’s Up, Tiger Lilly, “Respoken,” performed by Marti Jones and Don Dixon. David Goodstein sang and played drums on “Warm Baby.” Then Peter Lewis (of Moby Grape) performed “Other Side Of This Life,” a song written by Fred Neil and also recorded by Jefferson Airplane. John Sebastian gave us the story behind the writing of “Summer In The City,” and his brother Mark Sebastian joined him on guitar, the two of them walking us through the song’s creation. Joe Butler and Steve Boone also played on that one. It was certainly another highlight of the first set, and was the song chosen to close the set. The first set ended at 9:50 p.m., and the audience was told in no uncertain terms that the set break would be only fifteen minutes. During the break, a slideshow was shown.

Twenty minutes later, it was announced that the set break was over, though many people had still not managed to get back from the bathrooms. Hey, it was an older crowd, you understand. Some folks need a little more time. Anyway, starting off the second set was another surprise. John Sebastian joked about sometimes being out of fashion, and talked about at one point being in need of a job. It was then he was called to write a theme song for a television program. And, yes, John sang “Welcome Back,” the theme to Welcome Back, Kotter (a show I absolutely loved as a child). This song came as a surprise because it’s from John’s solo career, and is not a Lovin’ Spoonful song. It was such a treat. John was supported by several backing vocalists. That was followed by another track from the You’re A Big Boy Now soundtrack, “Lonely (Amy’s Theme).” John told a funny anecdote about the writing of this tune, and then played harmonica on this instrumental number. The entire orchestra backed him, and, yes, it was another of the show’s highlights. Then John Sebastian left the stage, and The Three O’ Clock performed “She Is Still A Mystery.”

My personal favorite Lovin’ Spoonful song is “Darling Be Home Soon.” It is a beautiful song, and I often tear up a bit when I hear it.  Last night Rob Laufer, the musical director of the show, performed it. He delayed the start of the song while waiting for Elliot Easton to join him on stage, but eventually gave up and began playing it. Elliott Easton finally did join him after the first verse. It was an excellent rendition, complete with horns and a string section. Afterward, Elliott explained that he’d been downstairs doing an interview about The Lovin’ Spoonful. That was followed by “Six O’ Clock” and then “Never Going Back.” John Sebastian played autoharp on “You Baby,” which was sung by the glorious Claudia Lennear. Steve Stanley sang “Younger Girl,” and then we got another song from John Sebastian’s solo career, “Stories We Could Tell,” with John on vocals and guitar, and joined by Carla Olson, also on vocals and guitar. That was followed by “Younger Generation,” sung by Kathy McCarty backed by two guitarists. Another of the show’s highlights was Dead Rock West’s absolutely beautiful rendition of “How Have You Been,” a song from John Sebastian’s 1970 solo album. Micky Dolenz then delivered an excellent version of “Daydream,” his voice sounding as good as ever. That song is a perfect choice for Micky. Alex Jules did the whistling.

Perhaps the most powerful and exciting moment of the second set came when Dave Alvin and John Sebastian jammed on that great blues instrumental, “Night Owl Blues,” along with Steve Boone on bass. Before launching into the tune, Dave Alvin told the story of his first rock concert, the lineup of which included The Lovin’ Spoonful. Someone in the audience gleefully shouted out, “I was there!” Anyway, this tune was just fucking great. John Sebastian is a fantastic harmonica player, a fact I sometimes forget, and he and Dave were ripping into this tune. Then Peter Case came onto the stage to perform a couple of songs, “Blues In The Bottle” and “4 Eyes,” keeping the energy high. Before “Blues In The Bottle,” Peter asked the crowd, “Are there any questions or anything so far?” There weren’t. Carnie Wilson and Rob Bonfiglio performed “Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind?” They were joined by John Sebastian and Steve Boone. Carnie Wilson, for anyone who might not know, is the daughter of Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys, and the Wild Honey Orchestra actually takes its name from a Beach Boys song. Then Susan Cowsill sang “You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice,” which was followed by John Sebastian playing “Jug Band Music,” a totally fun song. The entire group of musicians then filled the stage for “Do You Believe In Magic,” the set’s closing number. John Sebastian played autoharp on this one. The second set ended precisely at midnight.

But the show was not over. John Sebastian, Steve Boone and Joe Butler decided to remain on the stage and do one last number together. First, of course, John told a story about opening for The Supremes. The song they chose to do was “Daydream,” with John doing the whistling. They were not backed by any members of the Wild Honey Orchestra, but performed as The Lovin’ Spoonful. It was the perfect ending to a magical night. The show concluded at 12:07 a.m.

Set List

Set I
  1. Coffee Blues
  2. Lovin’ You
  3. Full Measure
  4. Butchie’s Tune
  5. It’s Not Time Now
  6. Fishin’ Blues
  7. Nashville Cats
  8. There She Is
  9. Pow!
  10. Darlin’ Companion
  11. Money
  12. Rain On The Roof
  13. Coconut Grove
  14. Didn’t Want To Have To Do It
  15. You’re A Big Boy Now
  16. Respoken
  17. Warm Baby
  18. Other Side Of This Life
  19. Summer In The City 
Set II
  1. Welcome Back
  2. Lonely (Amy’s Theme)
  3. She Is Still A Mystery
  4. Darling Be Home Soon
  5. Six O’ Clock
  6. Never Going Back
  7. You Baby
  8. Younger Girl
  9. Stories We Could Tell
  10. Younger Generation
  11. How Have You Been
  12. Daydream
  13. Night Owl Blues
  14. Blues In The Bottle
  15. 4 Eyes
  16. Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind?
  17. You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice
  18. Jug Band Music
  19. Do You Believe In Magic 
  1. Daydream
Here are a few photos from the show:

"Full Measure"
"Fishin' Blues"
"Darlin' Companion"
"Night Owl Blues"
"Do You Believe In Magic"
Alex Theatre is located at 216 N. Brand, in Glendale, California.


  1. It was the best wild honey gig ever. EPIC.

  2. These events just keep getting better and better. "Night Owl Blues" was one of the greatest musical performances I can remember seeing that focused on two players. And Darian and Three O' Clock doing "She Is Still a Mystery" with orchestral accompaniment. Wow!