Oak Ridge Boys February 20, 2009
By Glen Creason
The Oak Ridge Boys made a triumphant return to the Performing Arts Center on Friday night, lighting up the partisan crowd and holding court for a very full couple of action-packed hours. It’s been five years since “the Boys” stopped in and it seems like that has been way too long, judging by the enthusiasm of the audience at this show where breathers were rare and the music was pure country. The much decorated vocal quartet is comprised of tenor “Ace” Allen, baritone Joe Bonsall, baritone William Lee Golden and that trademark oak barrel-aged bass of Richard Sterban. They stick with country standards made full by the four-part harmony and never seem to take themselves too seriously until the do their gospel stuff. Yet, on this night they did slip in some new songs and took a step or two away from the mainstream C&W.
At Cerritos the production was big and glitzy with a Vegas touch including multi-media video screens, smoke machines and costume changes that made for visual interest to go along with the wall of country sound created by an excellent back-up band lead by guitarists Donnie Carr on lead and Rex Wiseman on pedal steel. The “Boys” came out of the chute like a snorting bull, firing up “the Boys Are Back,” “Come On” and “American Made” without as much as a deep breath. As was the case most of the night the group kind of stood back and let the rather regally bearded Mister Golden take a ballad and raise it up as he did on “Heaven’s a Small Town.” On the other end of the musical scale the thunderously deep bass voice of Richard Sterban gave counterpoint as in his “Deep Down Inside” that certainly matched the lyrics. There was just plenty of old-fashioned good time music like “Y’All Come Back Saloon,” Callin’ Baton Rouge” “Ozark Mountain Jubilee’ and the video enhanced “Hard to Be Cool (in a Minivan). The fun first half closed with the community themed “Touch a Hand…Make a Friend” that gave the audience a closer look at each other. The second half had a little more sanctified material like “Where the Soul Never Dies,” and “Will Live for Jesus” that demonstrated the original intent of the Oakridge Boys who were once a gospel quartet before conquering crossovers in several genre. One reason this group is so beloved is their down home attitude which showed on some sweet corn in the form of “Mama’s Table,” and “Thank God for the Kids” that got the grandmas in the crowd whooping. The one behind me raised decibels into the rock and roll levels. There were a couple of surprises outside standard C&W as in a rocking John Lee Hooker song “Boom Boom Boom Boom,” that prospered from the deep bass lead. Plus one of the real highlights of the new material played was Golden’s soaring “Beautiful Bluebird” written by Neil Young. Of course the demand was for the hits, especially the obligatory “Elvira” and “Bobby Sue” that got the chairs a swaying all up and down the theater. The boys were indeed back and Cerritos was darn glad there were there.