The Righteous Brothers: Soul and inspiration
The prospect of catching The Righteous Brothers live, for the first time, in the modern era creates both anticipation and apprehension. You want it to be awesome, but you’ve heard acts from the early ’60s before that only reminded you of past glories. You can’t imagine anyone hitting the high notes like the late co-founder Bobby Hatfield, and Bill Medley’s bass-baritone is so perfectly defined for the public on classic recordings such as “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” that there seems to be no guarantee he could recreate the magic with another Brother as he approaches the 65th anniversary of his introduction to the music of Little Richard.
Medley, however, still possesses the mojo that made contemporaries such as Otis Redding, Booker T. & the M.G.’s, and Wilson Pickett special. It emanates from him when he’s onstage three evenings a week at Harrah’s, fills out the room and runs through the instruments and microphones of a dynamic 11-piece band, directed by keyboardist Tim Lee. It’s definitely shared between Medley and his friend of 15 years, Bucky Heard, who sings the tender tenor parts that Hatfield made famous on hits such as “Ebb Tide” and “(You’re My) Soul and Inspiration.”
The band, the bond between Brothers, and Medley’s easy-going command of the stage all gel to create an experience that brings people to their feet multiple times. Barry Manilow sang of making young girls cry, but Heard and Medley can make grown men of a certain age tear up after transporting them to a fondly remembered earlier era with their timeless songs.
The band simply rocks out on a cover of Sam & Dave hit “Hold On, I’m Comin’,” with the four-piece horn section making their power-punching presence fully known, and early Righteous Brother hit “Little Latin Lupe Lu.” Guitarist John Wedemeyer tears it up on his blond Fender Telecaster guitar, drummer Jess Gopen has just the right amount of soul to his touch, and bassist Aja Wilson manages to both produce the rock-bottom foundation of the rhythm and be an ethereal presence on backing vocals.
The poignant moments are many. Hatfield is paid tribute, of course, with Medley taking lead vocal with sacrosanct reverence to his departed Brother on “Unchained Melody.” Heard doesn’t try to fill Hatfield’s shoes, and really doesn’t need to. His camaraderie with Medley is inarguably authentic, and his voice soars on a cover of Roy Orbison’s “Crying” as well as a bit of opera.
The Righteous Brothers becomes a full-fledged family affair when Medley’s daughter McKenna Maples steps forward from the backing vocals trio (including Ines Zak and Diane Spann of The Shirelles) to sing Jennifer Warnes’ part from Medley’s 1987 hit “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.” Medley’s natural disarming charm, self-deprecation and penchant for light mischief keeps the show rolling, and you don’t want it to end. He and Heard indeed recreate the magic of the Righteous Brothers’ signature hit, bringing back that lovin’ feelin’ as many times as they can before it’s gone, gone, gone.
Harrah's, 6 p.m. Tues.-Thurs., $49-$125 plus tax and fee. 702.777.2782