The Mikey Needleman Band had a couple of powerful assets that helped them amuse the Arts in the Park audience Friday in a way they hadn’t been entertained at the earlier shows I’d attended.
For one thing, former local Needleman and his quartet had a cool night for their performance. We had been practically melting during some of the earlier shows. And the hotter it is, the less the audience wants to move around or react.
When they move around and react, performers feel as if they are getting some energy back and will then perform more generously, which makes for a better show.
Then too, Needleman’s local history had to help. It is always a good thing to have supportive friends in any crowd for which one performs.
And finally, the Needleman Band played pop. They played songs that were recognizable, chart records, “singles” if your memory extends that far. There weren’t many of the 29 songs they played that a good portion of the audience couldn’t name or even sing along with.
Singing along is a sort of aim for bands like this one, self-professed wedding bands who aren’t around to show off their musical prowess or to explore new intellectual territories. They show up to entertain, and to entertain mixed crowds, like the ones that come to the band shell each Friday for the summer’s free shows.
Entertained we were. But the popular success of the last hour of the two-hour (nonstop) show may obscure what set the evening to rollicking. It was Chuck Berry.
On a remarkably spare stage (no individual instrument amplifiers, for example), Needleman walked out to his mic, an electrified acoustic guitar slung around his neck. The band — electric guitar, kit drums, and electric bass — swung into a pop song. All three of the stand-up players sang.
Despite the first of a series of good guitar solos, that first tune was pretty gentle stuff. But the band rocked a tad on the next number, Tom Petty’s “American Girl.” We probably heard the first of the additions of echo to the mix there, too. And the “Take It Easy” that followed was the same sort of thing.
The band moved quickly through some pop country, some vaguely Latin pop, and a soul number or two. Usually Needleman took the lead vocals while strumming.
Then it got a little darker and the onstage projection screen came into play. Even when they were playing joined arrangements of pop songs (The Spice Girls’ “If You Want to Be My Lover” and the Backstreet Boys’ “Everybody Rock Your Body Now” was one such), the band performed with a version of the music video for the song showing on the screen.
They were surprisingly close to sync with the lips and dancing in the videos, even when they did something older and more lively like the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back.” This video stuff was risky. It probably shouldn’t have worked. But it did.
And then we closed in on 9 p.m. The older crowd left (like wheat farmers departing the donut shop when “it’s time for my story.”) It began to get dark. A little breeze came up. And the band played “Johnny B. Goode.”
From the first chords of the St. Louis national anthem, the crowd was energized. The Needleman outfit only played the number at about 7/8ths conventional tempo. But everything was just going to work from then on. Even the drum solo, which was odd and interesting.
People started to get up to dance. There had been little kids up on the cement in front of the stage, but from that point on there were adult dancers too. Someday we’ll have to consider the biologic or social influences that make women want to dance in public and that keep men from wanting to.
But Prince’s “Kiss” worked. “Summer of ’69” worked. “Twist and Shout,” obviously, worked. And the show rattled down its rails to the hard landing at 10 p.m.
Still, Mikey Needleman had to remind us that his was a pop band. Imagine how much more fun we could have had if they would have been the sort to play Journey’s “Any Way You Want It” instead of the prom theme “Don’t Stop Believing.”