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Presenting their familiar material in concert last Saturday at Sanders, the Weavers once again proved they are still one of the top folksong groups in the business. After more than a decade of singing the same songs in essentially the same way, they still managed to pump life and vitality into a performance.
Perhaps the greatest advantage the Weavers have over other folk-singing groups is the fact that each member of the quartet has a strong, pleasing voice and is capable as a solo performer. The sound that results from the blending of these voices may at times be a little too polished to be folksy, but it is always distinctive and enjoyable.
With Pete Seeger gone, Lee Hays is certainly the outstanding individual artist in the group. Despite a bad cold Saturday, his resonant bass voice and his physical immensity gave both color and humor to the performance. Serving as emcee, he kept the concert moving with droll introductions and wry wit.
Almost as big as Hays is Ronnie Gilbert, the only female member of the group, has a reasonably pleasant voice, but she bounces around on stage too much. A plump woman in sedate dress gyrating like a 16-year-old cheer-leader looks ludicrous, and embarrasses. Although her enthusiasm is contagious and creditable, she comes across better on records than in person.
Because Hays and Gilbert only sing, the whole responsibility for instrumental background falls on Darling and Fred Hellerman. The extraordinary competence of both, particularly Hellerman on the guitar, is a large factor in the cohesion and warmth of the group. Darling sticks to the long-necked banjo most of the time, but switched to guitar for a solo number where he gave a fairly good rendition of some bottle neck blues.
While the Weavers have kept the old, time-tested arrangements of such favorites as the Rock Island Line and Study War No More, they occasionally try out new ideas and arrangements. The consequences are often unfortunate, as in their version of Get Along, Little Doggies. Modern jazz harmonies and the rock-and-roll technique of moving chromatically up the scale for each new verse just doesn't sound kosher in folksongs. It doesn't sound very good, either.
The three songs the tuxedo-clad quartet did best were among the oldest in their repertoire Nobody sings Good Night, Irene like the Weavers, and they make it sound like a fresh song each time they perform it. Hays suggested the audience join in on the other set of words for the same tune--Roll On Columbia--but the idea was greeted with hisses by sports fans in the crowd. It was a pleasure to hear Wimoweh swung again in a musical fashion. The recent "popular" transcription of the South African song is pretty awful, and sounds even worse in comparison to the Weavers' version. Finally, Tzenal Tzenal, always a good audience participation number, brought everyone into the action, and brought down the house
The highlight of the program was a splendid take-off on the Salvation Army, revival singers, Texas preachers, and other primitive interpreters of the Gospel. Lee Hays as the properly bored but sympathetic faith healer, and Ronnie Gilbert as a sinful, boozing woman gone straight, played their parts to perfection. Erik Darling contributed a fine off-key, off-rhythm trumpet accompaniment.
The evening concluded with the Weavers' famous musical "swing-around-the-world."
Despite the high quality of the concert, however, it proved that the Weavers lost a lot when Seeger left. Darling, Seeger's replacement, has a better voice than Pete, but his banjo lacks originality, spirit, and personality. To a large extent this is the Weavers' problem: they haven't progressed without Seeger, and good as they are, they grow less interesting with each hearing
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