The Hit Men are quick to make a point to the audience: They are NOT a cover band.
The crooning quintet, which formed in 2010, is made up of a group of longtime musicians with a collective body of work that is unparalleled. While they may perform songs that were originally sung by their famous bosses, each member played – often as a studio musician – on the records from which their playlist is derived.
With two members of the original Four Seasons and three bandmates who have played alongside the likes of Elton John, Cat Stevens, Jim Croce, Sting and the Ramones, the Hit Men brought three decades of hits to life Friday in Kleinhans Music Hall.
It was the first of two shows in the Queen City and while Frankie Valli wasn’t in tow, the Hit Men were backed by our own Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, with Stuart Chafetz conducting.
From Four Seasons hits including “Working My Way Back to You” and “Rag Doll” to Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock,” the Hit Men brought their unique spin to the vocals while delivering flawless musical performances worthy of a group of guys who have been at it for well over 100 years combined.
Larry Gates, who has worked behind the scenes as a composer and lyricist, stole the show with his silky sweet rendition of the Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons 1967 classic “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” and later again with “My Eyes Adored You” (1975).
With the crowd singing and clapping along, the Hit Men amped it up with a high-energy rendition of Tommy James and the Shondells’ “Mony Mony” that was as good as the original.
While the music was a nostalgic stroll down memory lane for the seasoned crowd that attended the early-morning performance, the Hit Men are more than just a talented group of studio musicians, they are mesmerizing storytellers, and that’s what sets them apart.
The group’s rendition of the Carly Simon classic “You’re So Vain,” for example, was stellar, but it was singer/guitarist Jimmy Ryan’s tale of meeting a young Carly Simon while both worked in a Greenwich Village record store and how that friendship led to him playing on her breakout record, that was special.
Likewise while the band got the crowd buzzing with a medly of two of Croce’s biggest hits – “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” and “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim” – it was Ryan once again taking the mic to share how he met Croce when the two were students and aspiring musicians at Villanova that stole the spotlight.
The BPO delivered exactly what we’ve come to expect – some of the most talented musicians around – and in this case, they took what was already a fantastic morning of rock ’n’ roll to the next level.
For a group of performers in their 60s, the Hit Men have an energy and a stage presence that acts half their age should envy. Best of all, they appear to truly love being on stage and it shines through from the first song through the last story.