PEI Symphony Orchestra with Chucky Danger
Review by David Malahoff
An empty rock drum kit sits centre stage as conductor James Mark and the PEI Symphony Orchestra launch into “Overture to Gypsy,” from the musical based on the life of stripper Gypsy Rose Lee. After dispatching enthusiastic snippets from Gypsy’s most famous song, “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” and sliding into convincing burlesque house musical raunchiness, the overture ends. Next, in somber contrast, comes a moving rendition of the hymn-like “Overture to Finladia” by Jean Sibelius.
As the applause ebbs, enter the four young men known as Chucky Danger. Their first two original songs are all fuzzy poetry and sketchy melodies, distinguished only by well-rehearsed and pleasing vocal harmonies and choruses. The orchestra is playing, but it’s hard to tell. When Chucky Danger play at full volume, other than a spikey blast of horns or a rumble of massed violins, it’s hard to hear the orchestra. But in softer passages, when the drums and electric guitar go quiet, one can hear how this partnership has potential. It’s fully realized when the band plays “Sweet Symphony.” Here is an effective arrangement that allows both rock and roll energy and orchestral subtlety to exist together. When the song enters an instrumental section, lead singer John MacPhee puts down his acoustic guitar and walks across the front of the stage to bass player Rob MacPhee who anticipates his arrival by pulling open the strap to his bass, allowing the singer to slip inside the loop. As the singer bends to take the bass, the bassist deftly backs out of the loop and steps over to the drums where David MacDonald has vacated the driver’s seat. The bass player grabs the sticks and takes up the beat from MacDonald who moves over to stand behind two small bongo drums. A well-choreographed bit of showmanship, for sure. But all these moves are done without the instrumental groove stopping or breaking down. Mr. MacDonald then beats out an increasingly frenetic pattern, pushing the song and the energy level in the room. Bongo solo over, the band members slip back to their original positions and together with the orchestra they deliver a pounding finish to the song.
After the intermission, Chucky Danger play unaccompanied on “I’m On Fire”. Built on a simple but catchy rock riff, this song is a high energy showcase for the band’s greatest strength—it’s punchy and pretty vocal harmonies and choruses. To close the set the band perform “Find Me.” Here the orchestra’s range of instruments and sounds are used to best effect giving the song a dreamy grace while the band sings a yearning chorus.
After the band exits, the energy level doesn’t slip as the orchestra performs “Dance of the Hours” from La Gioconda, then a swinging version of Dave Brubeck’s “It’s About Time” with flutes and woodwinds playing the passage made famous by Paul Desmond’s saxophone solo. The concert closes with a joyous performance of “Seventy Six Trombones” from The Music Man.