Thursday 22 February 2018

Review - Pop: The Drifters at the Olympia, Dublin

The Drifters, who performed at the Olympia.
The Drifters, who performed at the Olympia.
Ed Power

Ed Power

The Drifters have achieved musical immortality, both figuratively and literally. Figuratively because hits such as Under The Boardwalk and There Goes My First Love have become easy listening touchstones, songs everyone knows by heart even if they have never in their lives consciously sat down and listened to The Drifters.

The literal component is owed to the group's peculiar structure. More like a soccer club than a conventional band, every several years the group sheds a member or two and hires new blood. It's a revolving door which means that, though the music and the audience ages, The Drifters are forever young - as dapper and limber as the day the original incarnation emerged from the Philadelphia soul scene of the early 50s.

This has resulted in the slightly surreal sight of four men in their 30s performing syrup-glazed ballads stretching back almost to the birth of rock and roll, cheered on by a crowd of equally lengthy vintage. It's as if Mick Jagger was put out to pasture in the early 80s, his reptile-skin boots filled by a random member of Spandau Ballet (in turn eased out 15 years later to make room for Liam Gallagher).

Such an arrangement might encourage cynicism: with an ever shifting line-up does a group eventually become its own covers project?  On the evidence of their Olympia performance the answer was assuredly in the negative. At the halfway point of their Irish tour, The Drifters were such a picture of old school charm, their singing so rigorously silky,  it was hard to quibble with the band's modus.

Standing in a row the quartet suggested a classy sort of boy-band: they twirled and finger-clicked without ever pandering or leaning in too eagerly for the audience's affection. Vocally, they veered from lush to unapologetically full fat: on Come On Over To My Place, Michael Williams' falsetto was like sunshine pouring through thunderclouds; Sweets For My Sweet and a Spanish/English version of Toni Braxton's Unbreak My Heart showcased Ryan King's high notes and quivering emotion.

But there was a distraction in the form of a light show projecting pictures of Hollywood stars past and present. You can understand why The Drifters might wish to honour Sophia Loren or Burt Lancaster - their music dates from the same era as these actors' glory years. That, however, does not explain images of Scarlett Johansson and Megan Fox looming down -  a bizarre touch that took you out of the moment. Still, the endless applause around the house suggested such quibbles were a minority concern: most in attendance were too busy being swept along by the music to worry about the misjudged visual accompaniment.

Irish Independent

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