Although it was meant as a christening, last night's season-opening concert at the Pier 6 Concert Pavilion was in some ways more like a wedding.
There was something old: headliner Ben E. King. There was also something new, namely the pavilion itself. King's set had plenty that was borrowed, including songs by Sam Cooke, Otis Redding and the Shirelles, and anyone looking for something blue need only have glanced at the neon "Harborlights Concerts" sign above the stage.
Mostly, though, it was like a wedding in the sense that it seemed to herald a bright and productive future -- provided, of course, the evening's few awkward moments were simply the result of a new situation and not signals of trouble ahead.
Certainly, the performance's most obvious problem -- uneven and overloud sound -- seemed more the fault of King and company than the venue itself. For one thing, King's band obviously hadn't had an adequate sound check before the show, and that kept the instrumental mix off-balance all evening; for another, the group's soundman kept the sound level higher than was really needed.
Certainly, overly amplified sound is by no means something Pier 6 has a monopoly on; virtually every concert hall and amphitheater in the area serves up ear-splitting sound most of the time. But annoying as it is elsewhere, it seemed particularly unnecessary last night, given the unusually intimate atmosphere.
Worse, it seemed to hide rather than highlight King's voice. Although the singer's voice isn't quite as spry as it once was -- he sidestepped the high notes in "Stand By Me" and didn't even attempt the falsetto parts to "Under the Boardwalk" -- his light, clear tone and lilting delivery are still a joy to hear. But you couldn't, because of the way the band was mixed.
Thus, after a blaring, Vegas-y rendition of "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," King had to fight a brass-heavy mix through "On Broadway" before finally getting halfway decent sound in "This Magic Moment." It was fairly standard oldies fare from there, with King singing most of his big solo hits -- "Spanish Harlem," "Stand By Me," "Don't Play That Song (You Lied)" and "I (Who Have Nothing)" -- while the crowd reminisced appreciatively.
In fact, the evening's biggest surprise came not from the star but from his fans. After stretching "Stand By Me" into a mini-medley of Sam Cooke tunes (as well as tossing in a touch of "There Goes My Baby"), King made a couple of impromptu additions to his set. "I wanted to leave, but y'all got me too riled up," he said, and even though both "Twistin' the Night Away" and "In the Midnight Hour" got the dairy farm treatment -- that is, he milked them for all they were worth -- few fans went away disappointed.