Rockin’ Orchestra – Brass Transit – the Music of Chicago – 10/4/14, Schuster Performing Arts Center (review)
What happens when a cover band is actually better than the band that they’re imitating? That is most certainly the case with Brass Transit, a Chicago tribute band that joined the Dayton Philharmonic to kick off the 5th season of their Rockin’ Orchestra series at the Schuster Center in Dayton, OH. And imitate is not the right word, Brass Transit embodied the music of Chicago.
The band featured a stellar horn line that faithfully recreated the sophisticated arrangements of the original group (they even jumped into the crowd to solo at one point). Guitarist Bob McAlpine showed incredible versatility, laying back for the quieter moments like “Call on Me,” then firing off searing licks that captured the spirit of original fret man Terry Kath, especially on their tremendous take of “Make Me Smile.” Drummer Paul Delong was a monster, even doing a wild drum solo during a medley of “I’m a Man” and “Free.”
The person that elevated the entire show into the stratosphere was vocalist Neil Donnell, whose multi-octave range had already graced several other Rockin’ Orchestra performances of the past. Here, Donnell nailed everything – he was gruff on “Color My World,” soared to dizzying heights on “Hard to Say I’m Sorry,” and was buoyant on “Saturday in the Park.” His range and depth is truly unparalleled.
The band was delicate with ballads like “If You Leave Me Now,” (which sounded phenomenal with orchestral accompaniment), but managed to rock heavily on tracks like “Dialogue Parts 1&2.” The encore of “25 or 6 to 4” was truly moving. The typically subdued crowd was on their feet, furiously clapping along. The band even did an original song of theirs called “Last Time This Time,” which fit right in with the classic material. The audience was so moved that a large number of them stayed after to purchase CD’s and get autographs.
I’ve seen Chicago 25 years ago, and they were nowhere near this good. Brass Transit led a high-energy, hit-filled evening that, with or without orchestra, is a must see. I’ve been to just about every performance of this Rockin’ Orchestra series over the last five years – this was the best one, by far. —Tony Peters