Over the course of their 42-year
career, the Smothers Brothers have made an art form out of sibling rivalry.
From San Francisco’s Purple Onion in 1959 to weekly television, from Las
Vegas to the symphony orchestra stage, they have refined and elaborated
their special brand of fraternal putdown, provocation, one-upmanship, and
attention-getting misbehavior. On Wednesday night, they brought their
shenanigans to the Boston Pops, where they regaled local CEOs at the annual
“Presidents at Pops” fund-raising bash.
Rodgers’s “Surrey with the Fringe on
Top” that combined jazzy big-band idioms with Spike Jones color effects.
Lockhart confided that the arrangement dated from 1960, when Williams was
still known as Johnny Williams and conducted a big band.
The “Sound of Music” sing along that
concluded the Rodgers tribute was considerably more staid than the campy
“Rocky Horror Picture Show” – like reenactments that have recently become
popular. No one dressed up like singing nuns or lonely goatherds. Alas, the
communal singing was also restrained.
But it was Dick and Tommy –
cross-talking, singing, and accompanying themselves on bass guitar – whom
everyone wanted to hear. And there was good reason for that. Not only have
the Smothers retained their youthful, lean-and-fit appearance, they have
managed to keep their material vigorous. Dick personifies the straight-arrow
older brother, the upholder of conventional virtues and decorum. His weapons
are the withering stare, the silent treatment, and the relentless
interrogation. Tom is, of course, the whimsical and capricious, dumb but
cunning, brother. He delights in the shameless and highly embroidered
fabrication, the nonsense of a highly personal Spanglish, the subversion of
a “serious” song, the occasional revelation of Fool’s truth. (Dick: “Why did
you lie?” Tommy: “It’s national policy.”) Mother Smothers would have been
proud of the way her boys made all those CEOs laugh in the midst of hard
The gala brought in $800,000 for the
Pops’ parent organization, the Boston Symphony Orchestra – a figure somewhat
lower than in more prosperous economic times, but certainly nothing to sniff
Conductor Keith Lockhart framed the
Smothers Brothers’ set with birthday tributes to two of America’s composing
giants: John Williams, much honored film-score composer and Pops conductor
laureate, turned 70 in February. Broadway great Richard Rodgers would have
been 100 this year. A particularly charming rarity was Williams’s clever