Brenda Lee, Bobby Vinton Work Opposite Sides of Memory Lane


What kind of shows will Alanis Morissette and her peers be giving 30 years from now? Had they been watching Bobby Vinton and Brenda Lee on Friday at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, they would have glimpsed two of the paths that diverge in the woods for recording artists once their hit-making days are over.

Vinton and Lee once were at the forefront of pop music, charting 21 Top 10 singles between them in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Now each tours strictly on the oldies circuit without the benefit of a record deal. While Vinton’s act has turned into a schlocky, Las Vegas-style revue, Lee remains a classy pro who hasn’t lost sight of her artistic roots and sense of purpose.

OK, so Little Miss Dynamite hasn’t released anything new in eons, which leaves her short of the Neil Young career model that combines equal parts longevity, creativity and relevance. But her live set proved she still can generate sparks.


That elastic, expressive voice--a timeless instrument of emotion that’s made songs including “I’m Sorry,” “Sweet Nothin’s,” “Dum Dum,” “Big Four Poster Bed” and others so memorable--continues to create magical moments.

The power and grace of her singing emerged in material ranging from rockabilly and country-tinged pop to a closing segment of powerful gospel tunes. Around mid-set, the spunky Georgia native served up a tasty medley of songs she said were ones “I passed on that were made hits by others.” Among them: “Bye Bye Love” and “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden,” both of which she sang impressively.

Earlier, she voiced her affection for traditional country music: “I grew up listening to a different kind of country than you get from Nashville today. Then, Patsy Cline, Merle Haggard, Hank Williams and George Jones were the heart of country.” She and her six-piece band then performed a heartfelt, five-song medley of country classics that, by comparison, underscored just how dismal most of contemporary country music is.

She radiated warmth from the stage, smiled constantly and thanked fans for their years of support. Expressed by more than just words, her appreciation was delivered musically over the course of an hourlong concert that combined artistry and entertainment.


In contrast, the path Vinton has chosen seems designed for stroking his ego than for exploiting any creative drive.

Vinton has spent a good portion of the ‘80s and ‘90s playing Vegas (and Atlantic City), and he obviously knows how to work a crowd. Humorous and affable throughout his headlining 90 minutes, he chatted about his family, tossed out jokes and wandered through the crowd. He was greeted affectionately by adoring females who gladly traded roses for hugs and kisses. (One male fan surprised Vinton with a big hug of his own.)


Yet his stage demeanor was more narcissistic than endearing, his repeated prodding of the audience for its approval merely annoying. Lacking the sex appeal of a Tom Jones or the hip factor of a Tony Bennett, Vinton rarely rose above the level of a Wayne Newton.

For a 55-year-old man, whose wife and two daughters were in attendance, to sing about puppy love in “Roses Are Red” as straightforwardly as if he were still 15 was simply embarrassing.

Since Vinton rarely paints with broad strokes, such songs as “There! I’ve Said It Again,” “To Know You Is to Love You” and “That’s What I Like” were trite and uninvolving. Love in real life is complex, unpredictable and can be emotionally draining, but not in the imaginary world of Vinton’s drippy ballads.

His own easy-listening oldies were taxing enough; his rock ‘n’ roll covers were almost unbearable.

Vinton butchered the signature falsetto parts within Del Shannon’s “Runaway.” Later, during an ill-advised cover of Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock & Roll,” his tepid, highly orchestrated version was so far removed from the rollicking spirit of early rock music that it made you cringe.

Take note, ‘90s rockers: the choice will be yours one day--and it will make all the difference.