Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Sedaka is back

At Joe's Pub last night, where Neil Sedaka was set to perform, I met up with my friend J.R. Taylor — the New York Press reviewer who'd gotten me into the show as his guest — at the bar just before showtime.

J.R. informed me that he'd already seen two interesting things: "one dead mouse and one live Regis Philbin."

The concert was just Sedaka and his piano. I'd never seen him before, and was impressed with how great his voice still sounds at 68. He had a good level of energy, chose mostly his best-known tunes, and clearly loved performing. Hearing songs like "Laughter in the Rain," I was reminded that he is one of the greatest melodists to have emerged from rock's golden era. (Not coincidentally, he's perhaps the only one to have attended Juilliard.)

The operative word is "melodist" — he always used lyricists — but if Sedaka had it his way, none of his audience would have known that. Throughout his performance, he did the "and then I wrote" thing, never mentioning any co-writers. On the contrary, he'd refer to what he called "my lyrics." Especially egregious was when he acted out how he wrote "Love Will Keep Us Together," demonstrating how the lyrics supposedly came to him, and ending the story saying, "That won me a Grammy." As J.R. noted to me, it won him and someone else a Grammy — Sedaka's longtime lyricist, Howard Greenfield, may he rest in peace.

As Sedaka performed the first song of his encore, the slow version of the biggest song of his career, "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do" — co-written with Greenfield — something happened that I have never, ever witnessed at a performance.

He broke a piano string.

I've seen musicians break guitar strings, but never piano strings.

But there it was; you could hear its dissonant twang! as Sedaka couldn't help moving his fingers over the wayward key during the languid ballad.

I like to think it was Greenfield's revenge.

* * *

A nonmusical highlight of the concert was Regis Philbin's star turn — announcing the months during "Calendar Girl."

Regis actually looked nervous onstage. He made it a point to keep the spotlight on Sedaka, telling the audience what a great songwriter he was.

But he really was nervous, so much so that he managed to mess up the months of the year. He was supposed to call them out chronologically, but he forgot to say, "July!"

As Regis returned to his seat after the tune, he had to pass right by where I was sitting on a barstool. Catching me looking at him, he gave a smile. I smiled too, and the next thing I knew was that he grabbed my right hand as he walked by, giving it a squeeze. Very charming. Reeg still has the mojo!