Nostalgia has its guilty pleasures--as shown by the charm, smarm and urgent rock of Chuck Berry, Gene Pitney and the Penguins at the oldies "Valentine's Concert" Saturday at the Universal Amphitheatre.
While Berry's always energetic guitar pop made for a rousing close, more anticipation may have been felt for Pitney, who was making his first Los Angeles appearance since 1964.
Pitney's '60s recording of such hits as "Town Without Pity" may be largely forgotten by later generations of pop fans, but he has some remarkable credentials. During his hit years, he worked with legendary producer Phil Spector, hung around with the Beatles, had songs written for him by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, and even recorded country albums with George Jones.
If Pitney's vocals were not as squeaky-cute as his old records during his one-hour set, he's lost none of his melodrama. Backed by a 12-piece orchestra, Pitney worked to recreate the lush, emotional layers of strings and horns of his weepy hits that have long earned him comparisons to Roy Orbison. Too often, though, the effect at the amphitheater had more in common with a cornball TV variety show than with Spector's "wall of sound."
If Berry's act has changed little since the '70s, his presence on the road 40 years after rock 'n' roll was declared a passing fad at least demonstrates age need not spell the death of rockers any more that it does for the bluesmen.