By Kevin Coughlin
The five members of this group have recorded or performed with so many stars that they could do a week of shows and not drop the same name twice.
What makes the exercise so rewarding is their attention to detail.
As advertised, The Hit Men really are more than a cover band; these session wizards helped Frankie Valli, Carly Simon, Jim Croce, Cat Stevens, Carole King and many others create some of their most memorable songs.
On Thursday, the quintet captured the sound and spirit of tunes like Bad Bad Leroy Brown, You’re So Vain and Locomotion.
The show picked up steam with a medley of hits by Tommy James & The Shondells (I Think We’re Alone Now, Hanky Panky, Mony Mony).
Reggie Dwight (a.k.a. Elton John), who hired guitar ace Jimmy Ryan for a studio session in the ’70s, also got a nod with sizzling renditions of Crocodile Rock and Saturday Night’s Alright.
Ryan’s fellow Hit Men were Lee Shapiro (Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons, Tommy James & The Shondells), Gerry Polci (The Four Seasons), Larry Gates (Tommy James, Carole King) and Russ Velasquez (Sting, LL Cool J).
They’re all Jersey boys, too, with the exception of the Bronx-born Velasquez. They were bolstered by a three-piece horn section, led with verve by Mark Feinberg on sax.
One of the evening’s highlights came when Ryan (whose roots are in Plainfield and Westfield) picked up an acoustic guitar and his buddies surrendered their instruments, for some close-harmony vocalizing on Silence Is Golden and Dion’s Runaround Sue.
The evening climaxed with Polci, a Passaic native and former teacher in New Providence, reprising his lead vocal on December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night) — the Four Seasons’ biggest hit.
For encores, The Hit Men launched into a rip-roaring medley of Four Seasons favorites (Sherry, Walk Like a Man, Big Girls Don’t Cry). The harmonies sparkled. Oh, what a night. Keep the names dropping, guys.