The Righteous Brothers keep the feelin’ alive
Without a warning, a swell of horns blow from behind the curtain as the kick drum begins to thump. The curtain rises and two figures stand in the dark, with one marked by his frosty, slicked back hair. Tension builds as the two take turns crooning, then harmonizing. The snare drum snaps and the stage lights flare, finally shining light on Bill Medley and Bucky Heard—the new incarnation of The Righteous Brothers—as they sing the line “turn on your love lights.”
The song ends and Medley squints to see the faces in the crowd. It’s a packed house. And it’s a Tuesday. “Does Harrah’s know we’re doing this good?” he jokes. But since Medley reformed The Righteous Brothers with Heard one year ago, they’ve grown accustomed to these types of crowds. “The reaction has been quite remarkable,” Medley says. “We just came back from … two concerts over the weekend: One in Oregon and one in Seattle, and they were sold out for about two weeks in advance.” Not bad for a 76-year-old singing 50-year-old hits, such as “Unchained Melody,” “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” and “(You’re My) Soul and Inspiration.”
But it’s no surprise that people want to see a revamped Righteous Brothers. The hits alone validate their existence at Harrah’s, because solid rock tunes never die. And though baby boomers seemingly come in droves to hear the real Medley sing songs that defined their American adolescence, they’re probably not expecting such a fun and engaging show. Medley and Heard are effective in making the music singular and intimate.
“I’ve been doing shows for over 50 years and it’s all about pacing,” Medley says. “You don’t want to lose the audience … You constantly have to keep them right in your face.”
Though the show is mostly a tribute to the career of the Righteous Brothers and to Bobby Hatfield (the original tenor who died in 2003), the show isn’t saturated with nostalgia. Heard has solo time, where he belts out “Ebb Tide” and the Roy Orbison hit “Crying,” while Medley joins his daughter McKenna to sing Dirty Dancing hit “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life,” which he originally sang with Jennifer Warnes.
Medley also takes the audience to church with gospel song “Great Getting Up Morning,” and then gets bluesy with his original, “This Will Be the Last Time,” a tune that showcases the breadth of his band: four horns, three backup singers, and a tight rhythm section highlighted by John Wedemeyer’s masterful guitar work.
“I know (the audience) is there to relive the memories and hopefully that’s what we do,” Medley explains. “I just want them to know that briefly, real quick, that we’re a lot more than that, but I don’t want to beat them over the head with it.”
What’s most charming, however, is that Medley doesn’t seem to be limited by his age, seemingly easily keeping up with Heard’s dancing, interacting with the band, and maintaining a sharp wit. As Medley describes, “I feel like I’m 25 years old onstage. I literally do … Unfortunately, I have to stick the 25-year-old Bill Medley back into the 76-year-old body, but it works.”