The Everly Brothers
Riverside Theater; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; 30 October 1998
Review written by Tom Wilmeth
Rabon & Alton Delmore, and Ira & Charlie Louvin have long since stopped performing as duos. But while Don & Phil will always be seen as the youth of America when compared with these earlier brother harmony groups, the Everlys honored the past with grace and style, as well as recounted their own important legacy during a recent stop in Milwaukee.
One might think that the Everly Brothers would now strive to make their show a living jukebox, including as many pop hits as possible. This might be especially tempting presently, with a musical stage play of their lives now playing at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. But almost the opposite seemed true at this late-October concert. The brothers’ performance demonstrated a renewed interest in emphasizing the musical traditions that had been so influential upon them.
The 70 minute set began with two songs honoring their home state, with “Kentucky” melting into a fine and unexpected rendition of their final chart entry (for now), the memorable “Bowling Green.” The following performance was long on ballads, as Don and Phil knew what still best suited their voices and what the audience most wanted to hear.
If the brothers had been sitting with their huge black Gibsons on your worn sofa they probably wouldn’t have changed much about the show, relying mainly on songs that still meant something to them. Don was the front man, singing lead and giving a bit of background at various junctures. He spoke of their father Ike’s ability with the guitar, and how this led Chet Atkins to take interest in Don & Phil and bring them to Nashville. In fact, the middle of the show featured a brief acoustic medley of country and folk tunes from the great Songs Our Daddy Taught Us LP, of which Don says they are still considering a follow-up project
Tradition aside, the reason the Riverside Theatre was filled for the Everlys show was to hear the harmony. And like the Delmores and the Louvins before them, the Everlys still have the distinctive sound of themselves. Whether as a duo or with full backing band, the inimitable harmonies remained in tact. It’s true that they don’t try for challenges such as the long sustained notes in “Cathy’s Clown,” and the hard rocking tunes are paced appropriately for the sake of the singers, one guesses. But if there is anything lost from the stamina of these brothers, both now on the cusp on 60, it is more than made up by their talent as singers. In amazement one watches Don & Phil simultaneously hit the most intricate of harmony patterns without even glancing at one another for articulation cues.
Albert Lee has been playing guitar with the Everly Brothers for some time, adding his great instrumental lines to the harmony without ever stealing focus from Don and Phil. A surprise on steel guitar was Buddy Emmons, who was warmly received by this far northern crowd. The Everlys briefly left the stage late in the concert to let Emmons and Lee each have a featured number. And while a longer night from Don & Phil would have been welcome, who could complain about an intermission such as this?
Everyone agrees that the Everly Brothers’ hit singles are many. But an arguably more important aspect of their legacy is their breathtaking, and still uniquely influential harmonies. Charlie Louvin once remarked that he and brother Ira only saw their idols the Delmore Brothers perform live once, late in the career of both acts. “And they sounded just like the records of decades before – the harmonies still fresh and pure,” marveled Charlie. “Neither Ira or I were let down in the least.” Charlie Louvin could just as well be describing the performance of Don & Phil on their recent stop in Milwaukee; nobody was let down.