Three Dog Night can still hit the high notes and entertain an audience with a biting sense of humor.
The band had a crowd of 1,130 in the MontBleu Theatre smiling, laughing, dancing and reminiscing about the days when it dominated AM radio.
“I know you might want to go back to the ’70s,” Danny Hutton told the audience, which seemed to appreciate the extra-high amplification. The concertgoers had probably sustained hearing damage during rock ’n’ roll’s post-60s ascension into metal so they needed the music loud.
While Three Dog Night is first and foremost a rock band, harmonies is what set it apart from the pack when it had 21-straight singles reach the pop charts. Midway through a 16-song, 75-minute performance, Cory Wells twice nailed the high notes on “One,” the band’s first gold-record song and the one that, Hutton said, “really got the ball rolling for us.”
But on this Saturday night, June 21, the momentum began during the third tune.
Just as Wells appeared to begin a guitar solo on “Never Been to Spain,” lead guitarist Mike Allsup grabbed the neck of Wells’ guitar and wagged a finger before playing the riff himself.
With a perpetual smile, Allsup looks like the happiest guitarist to ever walk onstage. Although there were technical difficulties with his amp, he never digressed from an optimistic countenance, save an occasional side eye for his stage tech.
Wells, Hutton and Danny Negron started the band Redwood in 1964. They grew into Three Dog Night in 1968 with the additions of Allsup, keyboardist Jimmy Greenspoon, bassist Joe Schermie and drummer Floyd Sneed. Today’s lineup is Wells, Hutton, Allsup, Greenspoon, bassist Paul Kingery and drummer Pat Bautz.
It would have been understandable if the band had merely played its major hit songs, but the members, still creative and fun loving, had a diversified set. It played two new songs, the a capela “For The Children” and a blues, “Heart of the Blues,” upon which Wells played a hybrid bass guitar and Kingery a slide.
It also played an obscure John Lennon-Paul McCartney song, “It’s For You,” which was on Three Dog Night’s first record. “We took a strange Beatles song and made it stranger,” Wells said.
While Three Dog Night had numerous hit songs, Wells lamented it was impossible to predict which ones they would be. They suspected the Randy Newman-penned “Leave Your Hat On,” would be a chart topper. It eventually became one in the U.K. when Tom Jones covered it 10 years after Three Dog Night had recorded it. The band also played “It Ain’t Easy,” which was the title of one of its two 1970 albums but again didn’t reach the singles charts.
The audience reveled with some of the major hits, “Shambala,” “Celebrate,” “An Old Fashioned Love Song” and “Liar.”
The song people talked about after the show was another penned by Newman, “Mama Told Me Not To Come.” Wells said that song was from the 20th century, but wanted to have it arranged for the 21st century. “We used to be cool; back in ’72,” he rapped after the band members had donned knit and sideways ball caps. Wells joked he was worried his loose pants would fall down. He wore a military ID bracelet.
“Let’s hear it for Poop Dog,” a band member said, after Wells’ hip-hop performance.
A few minutes later, Three Dog Night was called back onstage, where it played its greatest hit, “Joy to the World,” to which everyone danced, maybe even “the fishes in the deep blue (Lake Tahoe) sea.”
– Tahoe Onstage images by John C. Cocores
Three Dog Night
June 21, MontBleu Theatre, Stateline
1 – “Family of Man”
2 – “Black & White”
3 – “Never Been to Spain”
4 – “Shambala”
5 – Unknown
6 – “It’s For You”
7 – “An Old Fashioned Love Song”
8 – “Leave Your Hat On”
9 – “One”
10 – “It Ain’t Easy”
11 – “Heart of Blues”
13 – “Mama Told Me Not To Come”
14 – “Celebrate”
15 – “For the Children”
16 – “Joy to the World”