By Anne Neville
NEWS STAFF REVIEWER
If you have never seen the Smothers Brothers, it's possible to
pigeonhole them as kind of a one-trick-pony comedy act in which one
brother plays a dumb guy who makes stuff up and the other plays a
superior straight man.
A lot of their act does rely on this foundation, but it was apparent
from the minute the brothers hit the stage at Kleinhans Music Hall
Saturday night that their 50-some years of playing off each other has
allowed Tom and Dick Smothers to hone their interactions to perfect
comebacks delivered with superb comedic timing.
Looking trim, dapper, and just the slightest bit older than they were
when CBS first harassed and censored, then fired them from their
cutting-edge comedy hour back in 1969, the brothers took the stage
with a song, to the tune of "Those Were the Days," a 1968 hit:
"Once upon a time we were on TV/Every Sunday night we knocked them
dead/We got into some trouble, so they fired us/I guess it was
something that we said!"
Although there was a sprinkling of young people in the audience, for
the vast majority of those in the almost-full house, both the song
and the story were familiar, and people clapped along.
The brothers are strong musically, Dick's clear tenor shining and Tom
displaying top-notch guitar skills as he tackles genres from folk and
classical to a fast-fingered flamenco.
The pair expressed their delight at playing in Buffalo again, with
our great philharmonic. Tom explained the difference between a
philharmonic orchestra and a symphony orchestra: A symphony
orchestra, he said, "plays mostly in the key of C," while a
philharmonic "plays in any key it wants, and they're paid a lot
less." The quip drew knowing laughter from the crowd.
Tom then began a story, starting off with the fact that he is a pilot
as is, he claimed, BPO Conductor Paul Ferington and the brothers
had flown into Syracuse, where they rented a Cessna and Tom flew his
brother around the area, up the Niagara River, over the falls, a
beautiful trip to take in October, when the leaves are turning
colors. "Tom, this is not true!" Dick said, to which Tom replied,
with a crafty smile, "A lot of it is true!"
Tom's reasons for claiming to be a pilot ranged from, "When I walked
on stage I could not recall not being a pilot" to "I used to work
with Bernie Madoff!"
Even Dick got in a zinger: "You are a frequent flier. But no matter
how many miles you accumulate, they never upgrade you to pilot!"
The brothers started off a medley of folk songs about towns in Texas,
"Quando Caliente el Sol," Gilbert and Sullivan's "Poor Wandering
One," each dissolving into comedy,
confusion and chaos, or, in one case, into yodeling and Tom playing
the "dueling banjos" song from "Deliverance."
A segment in which a silent Tom did yo-yo tricks, wearing a plaid
shirt and wide yellow suspenders, was mildly amusing, but fell short
of the brothers' verbal interactions. They recovered their momentum
with a series of photos and videos of their past, ranging from their
baby pictures to clips from their Comedy Hour, including songs by The
Doors, The Who, Kenny Rogers and the brothers themselves singing Phil
Ochs' controversial "Draft Dodger Rag."
Paul Ferington, who conducted the BPO through the first half of the
concert, selected music that referred to the tumultuous times of the
late 1960s and early 1970s, including selections from "Hair," "West
Side Story," "Jesus Christ Superstar" and the Beatles' "Yesterday,"
all evocative and magnificently performed.
"Age of Aquarius" and "Let the Sunshine In," the medley from "Hair,"
was particularly moving when delivered by the majestic orchestra.
Opening with a sweet and simple string note, it grew in power with
additions of many musical voices, with layered percussion and
tambourine contributions particularly appealing. The "West Side
Story" overture and triumphant final piece from "Jesus Christ
Superstar" filled the house with melodies that were familiar and
sound that was intensified into a higher sphere.
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra with the Smothers Brothers
Saturday night in Kleinhans Music Hall.