ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — It’s Saturday night inside the intimate Victoria Theater at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in downtown Newark, and the audience is clearly enjoying themselves.
“New Jersey loves you, David!” shouts a trio of overly excited middle-aged ladies in unison.
“I love you too!” responds the delighted entertainer, who is smiling and holding court at center stage.
The year is 2016. In a chaotic world that is rapidly being consumed by petty political bickering, international turmoil and civil unrest, there is something oddly comforting about the fact that women are still losing their minds over David Cassidy.
For those of our readers who were not around in the early 1970s, it is almost impossible to convey just how huge Cassidy was to a generation of Baby Boomers who were coming of age in that post-hippie, pre-MTV decade. Fueled by a popular weekly television series, called “The Partridge Family,” which chronicled the unlikely yet enjoyable musical adventures of a widowed mom and her traveling band of children, Cassidy stepped to the forefront and became a global pop-culture sensation seemingly overnight. As oldest son Keith Partridge, Cassidy was an improbably perfect mix of dreamy good looks, solid lead vocals and on-screen charisma that had millions of youngsters literally wallpapering their bedrooms with his album covers and endless Tiger Beat magazine pin-up posters. Aided by a series of sold-out tours and a relentless publicity and marketing juggernaut set in motion beyond his control, the barely 21-year-old actor/singer quickly became one the most famous and instantly recognizable faces on the entire planet. There was Elvis. Rod. Mick. And David. In a free-spirited era that predated the Internet and the inescapable crush of our current social media overload, David Cassidy was pretty much everywhere.
Fast forward more than 40 years to discover that a modest-sized wave of “David Mania” is still alive and well. Now a polished, veteran touring act with a long list of stellar Broadway, Las Vegas and Hollywood credentials, the 66-year-old heartthrob brought his current “Up Close & Personal” tour to NJPAC for two Saturday shows with mostly successful results. Diehard followers of his early 1970’s heyday were most likely disappointed by the dearth of “Partridge Family” hits and a relative neglect of his own catalog of solo material. But for the majority of concert-goers less invested in his glorious past, the performances offered a healthy mix of memorable chart-toppers and eclectic cover tunes all near and dear to the artist’s heart.
After opening the set with his perfunctory yet still catchy “C’mon, Get Happy” television series theme, Cassidy shared a variety of engaging insights between songs. He was quick to remind fans that he was briefly a Jersey boy from Essex County, having spent the bulk of his elementary school years in West Orange before heading west to southern California as a pre-teen. Fronting a cohesive five-piece band that navigated between tight and rocking to loose and jazzy as per the songs’ needs, Cassidy was enjoying the opportunity to flex his musical muscles, handling the lead and rhythm guitar parts on many of the heavier selections. “Heartbeat” was imbued with a sexy swagger while the epic Tony Romeo-penned “Point Me In The Direction of Albuquerque” gradually swelled in power, transporting many listeners back to more innocent times in their lives.
Despite initially being branded by early detractors as a shameless purveyor of disposable bubblegum music, Cassidy has deliberately retooled his recent tours to demonstrate his impressive array of musical and personal influences. A rollicking blues number paying homage to his childhood hero, B.B. King, gave way to a surprisingly strong version of Deep Purple’s “Hush,” and “I’ll Meet You Halfway” sounded just as fresh as when it was written for David by Gerry Goffin and Wes Farrell way back in 1971. A poignant tribute to his late father, the stage and screen actor Jack Cassidy, came in the form of a lush, soulful rendition of the Cole Porter standard, “Night and Day.” A brisk, one-two punch of tunes made famous by The Monkees got the predominantly female crowds up on their feet and dancing in the aisles. Yet unlike the last few Monkees tours, Cassidy wisely avoided the use of distractive and overwhelming background photo montages showcasing his younger days, making the listeners in attendance focus on his present-day vocals and musicianship.
After reflecting upon his good times with John Lennon and soldiering through an emotion-drenched version of The Beatles’ “In My Life,” Cassidy switched gears and offered up what may have been the musical high point of his 90-minute set. Revisiting a lesser known 1975 solo track called “Common Thief,” which he admitted deals with heartbreak, loss and his own offstage struggles, Cassidy was pure electric. Propelled by a wonderfully funky groove, he and the band were briefly liberated from the shackles and safety net of nostalgia and free to just cut loose. Here’s to hoping that he returns to his own songwriting treasure chest soon and dusts off even more of these obscure gems for future audiences to discover and enjoy. Oftentimes overlooked or never even mentioned by “serious” music critics and rock historians is the undeniable fact that Cassidy was and still is a first-class showman. Whether it was by playfully interacting with the more vocal audience members, graciously displaying various gifts and cheesy 1970’s memorabilia being offered to him, or referring to one swooning female fan as “baby,” Cassidy remembers that the first rule of being an effective entertainer is to entertain.
Upon zipping through an unrehearsed yet fun take of “On Broadway,” he proudly revealed plans for a new Christmas album due out later this year. As the evening came to a close, the band unleashed a barrage of “Partridge Family” blockbusters. Back-to-back renditions of “I Woke Up In Love This Morning” and “I Think I Love You” triggered a mass stampede of fans to the edge of the stage, mere feet from the beaming singer, thus ensuring Cassidy’s promise of an “Up Close & Personal” concert experience. A series of bright houselights signified the close of the show, leaving the dispersing crowds to compare their favorite concert moments and exchange contact information to share their newly acquired photos and videos. It’s a somewhat bittersweet fact that many music lovers who embark upon well-intentioned trips down memory lane often regret undertaking the journey. But not tonight. Yes, it’s not 1974 anymore. It’s 2016. But David Cassidy is still around, folks … and that is truly something to get happy about.
— Entertainment correspondent David VanDeventer enjoys focusing on the brighter side of the pop culture universe and is a frequent contributor to Worrall Media. Check out his exclusive “DAVID CASSIDY LIVE @NJPAC 2016” photo highlights album at https://essexnewsdaily.com/media/16849
REST IN PEACE, DAVID CASSIDY (April 12, 1950 – November 21, 2017)