The Ultrasonic Rock Orchestra have just presented another of their tribute concerts honoring British super groups of yesteryear. Last night found the URO in fine form, with each song getting its due, from the subtle nuances to the thunderous, explosive shifts in dynamics. And what this rock orchestra did with some classics by The Who throughout the evening was among the most impressive. “Tommy,” “My Generation,” and “Baba O’ Riley” went over well for their power and precision at the Regent Theatre in Arlington, Massachusetts.
URO began with a banging rendition of “We Will Rock You” segue into “We Are The Champions.” It didn’t take long to realize the URO had been practicing the hell out of these songs. Vocalist Christie Beaulieu was a powerhouse, balancing self-restraint in the verses with over the top belting during the chorus. Straight into “Helter Skelter” with two guitarist, Deegan and Bones(stage names), capturing the garage rock timbres and bracing urgency. They made you feel the manic energy coming from their six strings.
Charismatic vocalist Mike Leonard was winsome on David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” keeping his Major Tom sweet, helpless, and plaintive. The band, too, rocked the Bowie classic, filling the spaces out nicely, keyboards, backing vocals, and dual lead guitar work building a wide, arcing, lifted sensation.
The URO take a personal approach to addressing their audience in between songs. Clemente even talked to two little kids in the front row. The singer referenced the children in the front row several times, likely making them feel welcome and a part of the show. Clemente also knew how to thank a friend, explaining that the Regent Theatre makes the URO possible. “They said ‘yes’ when others said ‘no.’” The singer then went on to tell the young people in the audience that if they have a dream, just keeping asking people for support, no matter how many times they get a no, until they find someone who says yes. And before the night was over, Clemente acknowledged an audience member who had driven down from Maine. He’s a thoughtful young man, that Sal Clemente.
Singer Fatima Elmi rocked out on Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog,” taking turns with the guitarists on this stop-start rhythmic piece. Just when you felt the thrill of Elmi’s pristine, high-pitched belt, the guitars came in to punctuate the vocals with their hefty rhythms. Bones went to town here, pressing out a wailing melodic line on the ride out with its ass-kicking groove.
Maria Clemente has been turning out to be a fine young budding lead vocalist. She handled “Tie Your Mother Down” with plenty of expression, ease, switching from spoke word pace to cruising tempo to belty without losing grace, and she nailed it marvelously on the final verse. It didn’t hurt to have Bones playing the frenetic phrases behind her.
“Dear Prudence” came off with the purity of sound and honest emotion that made you feel it. Elmi’s vocal take had that rising beauty as she progressed through the words. Singer Kyle Martin, too, hit the underplayed sweet spot in the song. Clemente joined the two guitarists on his own six string and the three axe men rode the guitar lines. From beginning to end, the three played with the subtle touches required to get a great sound and feeling out of a few notes, filling the theater with the song’s floating emotive effectiveness.
“Misty Mountain Hop” by Led Zeppelin found Beaulieu and Elmi trading up on the lead vocal lines beautifully. The guitarists were at their usual best here, and they got their needed bounce from the flexible, formidable rhythm section of drummer Alan Ware and bassist Doug Crawford. Those two lock into solid grooves no matter what kind of song it is and make their own special contributing to these classics, assuring the audience feels the same thrill as when they first heard them. The rhythm men were particularly effective on “Fame” and “Under Pressure.”
You had to be there to hear how perfectly the URO presented Electric Light Orchestra’s “Mr. Blue Sky.” Keyboardist Ernie Cataldo brought much of it to life with his jaunty piano lines, lush synth work, and vocal effects. The URO’s best number of the evening was “I Am The Walrus.” It was in the way Sal Clemente delivered the eerie lyrics with odd vocal overtones. It was in the way the rhythm section marched it forward with eccentric swagger and oomph. It was in the way the synthesizer filled out much of the tone. It was in the way the second keyboard banged out the chords. It was in the way the dual lead guitars played the haunting phrases. It was in the way a band of extremely talented individuals came together with a greater clarity and purpose.
The full chorus effect, too, is very much responsible for the largeness of these presentations. “Killer Queen,” for example, got tremendous lift from the orchestrated singers. You could hear that extra dimension of voices making a huge difference.
There wasn’t a weak link in the whole show. Any of fan of classic rock or any fan of good musicianship should check out the URO in November when they return to the Regent Theatre in Arlington, Massachusetts to perform “Jesus Christ Superstar.”