Oldies shows are emotional affairs, and the one Saturday night at the Warner Theatre was no exception. There was a big love affair going on between the groups and the packed house of mostly middle-aged couples, each sustaining the other with their open-hearted indulgence in the classic sounds that orchestrated their first romances. And, despite the somewhat shopworn nostalgia that can plague these shows, when all the doo-wops had been sung, most of the couples seemed to leave the show a little younger and closer than when they got there.
Following D.C.'s Rainbows, who ended with an exuberant revival of their own "Mary Lee," the charming duet of Johnny and Joe struck the evening's first note of reverie with their immortal "Over the Mountain, Across the Sea." But it was Detroit's Marv Johnson who got the crowd rocking first with his up-tempo rhythm and blues, full of wild falsettos and crazy dance steps. Shep's Limelights quieted things down with a set of dreamy ballads, including their famous "Daddy's Home."
It took Etta James only one raunchy, growling vowel of her gutbucket version of Muddy Waters' "I Just Want to Make Love to You" to announce that she's no oldies act. James turned in a powerful set of soulful blues that proved she is one of the great female rhythm-and-blues singers. Her extended vocal treatment of "I'd Rather Go Blind" was a profound mix of sexual humor, romantic fatalism and womanly pride. Linda Ronstadt, take heed.