The Green Street Music Series has just completed its ninth tribute concert. Last night, the music of Queen, David Bowie, and Elton John received high caliber treatment from members of the best bands in the greater-Worcester area.
Producer Greg Munro and sound engineer Paul Dagnello have pulled off another successful night of rock music entertainment to a packed Lucky Dog Music Hall. The Lucky Dog is located on Green Street in Worcester, and that is why they call it the Green Street Music Series.
Readers should find a few minutes and maybe pour a cup of coffee as this is going to be a long review, with a lot of details about the 30-plus singers who took to the stage to honor their musical heroes. The show opened with a set of Elton John classics. The house band’s singer, Dawn Sweet, from the cover band Pet Rock, was so damn perfect for this role that it can‘t be overstated.
Sweet, with funky 1970s sunglasses, overcoat, and white boots was a very likeable, watchable presence. She also nailed all the vocal phrases in her songs. “Mona Lisa,” performed with only piano from Pet Rock keyboardist Charlene Arsenault, was a touching ballad to play acoustic before the rest of the band came up to play the haunting “Funeral For A Friend,” with guest keyboardist Mike Warren helping out with the deep, foreboding synths.
On “Love Lies Bleeding,” “Yellow Brick Road” and “Someone Saved My Life Tonight,” Sweet captured the mood and timber and she served them up with a personal funkiness. She closed out the John set with Levon, bringing the song’s emotional dimension to the forefront by reaching for some place deep and personal within.
Singer Annie Eggleston, from the band Beats & Sources, had a sweet and tender rasp in her voice as she brought vocal vibe to “Daniel.” Eggleston made the tune something to be felt. Vocalist Billy Beck, of Danny Dark and the Black Souls fame, was totally cool and in good form in one of the funkier of John’s material, “Honky Cat.” Horn players came into action here. Sax man Brian Kearsley from Jediah and trumpeter Steve Lefebvre from Hurrican Horns punched up this piece with some hefty horn shots. It was hard to say if the horns or the singer made the best showing. The horns rocked and he was one funky guy, that Beck.
By this point it was clear the Green Street team had focused on giving as much variety in John’s different approaches as possible. Singer Keri Anderson, from Whalebone Farmhouse, had a voice that rose sharply to the occasion on “Your Song” and she sang with soul and with fire in the belly. Then came Krista Van Guilder, from VanRet, to carry the gem of a ballad “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” with her husky belt. The horns were fully majestic here too.
One of the most fun songs of the evening was, of course, “Crocodile Rock,” sung by John Nelson, also from Danny Dark and the Black Souls. Yes, he nailed the high pitch 1950s style chorus. Next up, Jody Ryan, of Uncle Billy’s Smokehouse, belted out the funky piano strut “Bennie And The Jets” and he easily belted in falsetto too. Singer Jason Dunn, from The Luxury, captured the lonely place of “Rocket Man” and he too can bring forward the feeling in grand style.
Only a fireball singer like Nicole Langlois could hit the aggressive stride of “The Bitch Is Back” and Langlois resurfaced throughout the sets to deliver more on what her engaging demeanor and talent promised. “Tiny Dancer,” perhaps the most emotionally potent of John’s catalogue, was brought to life by Tom Hurley’s gravelly vocal take. Hurley, from The Drunken Uncles, surely conjured up memories from all in attendance of what they were doing when they first heard the song. It’s because singers like Hurley were handpicked for this tribute that made it not just a show but an event. Hurley rocked it on “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting” and even a failing mic couldn’t slow this singer as he swiftly grabbed another one. Guitars were really tight on “Saturday Night” and the rhythm section packed a wallop too.
Moving onto the David Bowie set. “Panic In Detroit” featured singer Sam James in the first of a handful of songs that he performed with Bowie’s trademark red lightning bolt painted onto forehead and face. “Panic” was also noted for its bouncy, jaunty guitars too. James came back a few songs later wearing an orange NASA jumpsuit with flashing lights to perform a cool version of “Space Oddity” and he went over well with the audience. They couldn’t seem to get enough of this boy. The band also craftily recreated Bowie’s eerie, spacey sounds with “Space.” Keys, synths, and guitar magic made that authentic sci fi music. The band was so good you could not think of them because they were filling in every nook and cranny so perfectly that they would have had to of made a mistake or stopped playing for the audience to appreciate what they were doing. Getting back to James, a young man we’ve only just begun to hear about, also turned in fine lead vocals on “Changes” and the crowd pleasing “Fame.”
Singer Rob Ledoux from Atomic Stereo excelled on “The Jean Genie” and “Ziggy Stardust.” Ledoux sang over the drive and structure of these songs with a voice that resembles Bowie’s strength in his natural timbres. Ledoux is also pretty cool when he moves around the mic with his thick premature gray. You can’t miss him up there. Guitars, lead and rhythm, were petty nifty here too. The lead phrasing in “Ziggy Stardust” created its own arc for its tale to unfold.
Paul Starvaski from Pet Rock, Cathy’s Clown, and N.E. Soul Revue, sang a really cool R&B version of “Let’s Dance” with four backing vocals bringing Bowie’s harmony sensibilities to the forefront. Nicole Langlois, after a wardrobe change, resurfaced to do a funky dance routine on “Fashion” with two back up dancers, one of whom was working the bar last night. One of Bowie’s best songs, “Starman,” got the extra helping of smoothness from guitarist-bassist Roger LaVallee, his mellifluous voice flowed like honey over the pleasant build of this number.
Lucky Dog owner, Erick Godin, from the group Flock Of Assholes, came up to sing “Ashes To Ashes” and the audience wasn’t just being polite with their enthusiastic reception. His soft, light vocal caught the breezy gentle nature of this piece. “Suffragette City,” with Mike Kittredge of Castine, bringing the roof down with his spirited delivery, had the audience uttering in unison the lyric “Ahhhh, Wam-bam, thank you Ma’am.” Another vocalist, Brendan Mahoney from OSB, gave a fun twist to “Modern Love,” his playful efforts making it work for this bouncy, danceable tune.
“Young Americans,” featuring Dan Burke from The Orange Ocean, was soulfully delivered at the microphone and the pleasant sweep of horns and harmonies were a real treat. The guitars on “Heroes” had sustained phrasings that were pressed into good service. Singer Scott Ricciuti from Huck supplied the range from subtle to bombastic when needed.
“Rebel Rebel” gave the feisty Keri Andersen, again, from Whalebone Farmhouse, another chance to strut her stuff. Closing out the Bowie set was cabaret style chanteuse Niki Luparelli from the Steamy Bohemians, a creative selection to perform “All The Young Dudes,” a song requiring not just good vocal phrasing but an understated emotion, as it‘s a memorial song. Luparelli pulled it off with grand cabaret moves that showed the possibilities of theatrical interpretation. This singer was also quite the spectacle, her fancy black nightclub dress and Marilyn Monroe hairdo ratcheting up the entertainment value.
The Queen set was the most hard-rocking of the tributes. The band had an orchestrated approach and a real edge at this part of the program. They had to to deliver Queen’s sculpted soundscapes. Much of the final set featured songs that have become hard rock anthems, with compressed guitars, bombastic rhythms section, and eloquent keyboards. Guitarist-bassist Andy Rivers, from Counter Attack, Killer Queen, and Pet Rock, was an added bonus to the show. He filled out the layers and textures on lead, rhythm, and bass guitar. He had a quiet stage presence because his playing speaks for itself, loudly. Guitarist John Donovan, from The Bees Knees and Preacher Row, gave his all on fierce leads and hefty rhythms.
House singer Dan Gorman rocked it on “Tie Your Mother Down,” “Somebody To Love,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and the closing “We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions.” Gorman, from Killer Queen and Fuzion, switched effortlessly from belting to talking lyrics on “Mother.” He controlled the gamut of dynamics on “Somebody.” And he closed out with a lot of power on “Rock You/Champions.”
Neil Lucey from Thinner, another handpicked ace, turned up the juice on “Now I’m Here” and “Sheer Heart Attach.” Lucey, eyes piercing, features chizzled, puts on a good show. He’s an always in motion, always emoting front man. A premiere vocalist, Jodee Frawlee of Starr Faithfull, managed to sound feminine and tough on “Stone Cold Crazy,” a whipsaw of a song that maybe only she could handle the rapid fire vocals to. Frawlee stayed on to front “Killer Queen, an eloquent, twisty piano mid-temp rocker, that again, Frawlee is uniquely talented enough to handle. Its lyrics wrap around the tricky rhythms, and Frawlee was fastidious and precise.
It’s a good thing Charlene Arsenault was the house piano player. She brought the right touch to “Somebody To Love” and “Killer Queen.” Arsenault let the tinkling notes role right out, pausing rightly, adjusting dynamics, and filling out some of the best parts of these numbers.
Paul Dagnello left his perch at the soundboard to apply his talents at the mic, as he does with his band Huck. Dagnello hammered out “Keep Yourself Alive” with true showmanship. Who said technicians can’t be cool? Dan Burke, of The Orange Ocean, sang “You’re My Best Friend,” his sweet soulful voice carrying this jazzy pop piano ballad. Jason Dunn, again, from The Luxury, gave “Fat Bottomed Girls” the work out it required.
Krista Van Guilder returned to perform “Save Me” which went over well, but it was her duet with Chris Drzal from Suckapunch on “Under Pressure” that really let her show off her pipes. This girl can belt and she can do everything else with her voice that only the best singers can.
Singer Amanda Lirange from 7-Minute Stagger got real funky on “Another One Bites The Dust” while human metronome Duncan Arsenault laid down the groove with class. Eyes must have kept switching from front mic to drum set during this Queen classic.
Humor was in abundance at this show, and you need a sense of humor when you’re tackling some of the best material of the 1970s in front of a packed house. Michael Thibodeau from The Bees Knees did his best Freddie Mercury impersonation with slicked back hair, white tee-shirt, and macho posturing and swaggering. Thibodeau rocked the crowd with his delivery of “Radio Ga Ga,” a challenge to a singer’s dynamics and restraint. This singer’s rangy vocal pulled the band into this electronically enhanced pop-rocker.
“Crazy Little Thing Called Love” gave Kayla Dayly a chance to shine, her vocal approach requiring her to stop and start around an old school rock and roll structure that takes good timing.
Another Green Street presentation has come and gone. Yet, people at last night’s show will have good reasons to come back to more, about 30 good reasons. There are so many talented people giving it their all that these shows have become a must for anyone who knows of them. Names to watch from last night are Sam James and Krista Van Guilder.