His swivel hips notwithstanding, it was Elvis Presley's ability to assimilate a variety of popular music forms in the '50s that was largely responsible for his broad, enduring appeal. A similar mix of pop, country, and R&B surfaced in the playing by Steve Nardella at Desperado's last night, but too often, his reach exceeded his grasp.
Nardella simply isn't as expressive, or as flexible a singer as Presley, and his versions of songs long associated with Elvis, like "Just Because," "Heartbreak Hotel," and "His Latest Flame," sounded stilted by comparison. Indeed, Nardella's impeccable taste in material may be his biggest weakness. Except for the delightful rockabilly interplay between his guitarist George Bedard and his bassist Ted Harley, Nardella failed to sustain the sense of spontaneity and excitement so necessary to the music. His interpretations of tunes by Chuck Berry and Sonny Boy Williamson were more successful.
Billy and the Shakes scored earlier in the evening with a suprisingly straightforward set of rock'n'roll. Their music combines certain stylistic elements of the Beatles, Kinks, and Zombies with the rhythmic urgency associated with New Wave. The result is more refreshing and considerably less derivative than it sounds.