How could the Buffalo Philharmonic – back home after filling Carnegie Hall with a fervent following that nearly set new attendance records at the fabled New York City concert venue and drew rave reviews from the New York Times – keep up such a fever pitch?
The answer is obvious – play some Led Zeppelin.
The BPO Rocks! series rolled on Saturday night before a roused standing-room-only crowd in Kleinhans Music Hall, as the pristine venue that the Zep once played welcomed back rock orchestra conductor and arranger Brent Havens and his touring band for another round of pyrotechnic sounds strengthened with philharmonic support. In what could be described simply as a first-rate Led Zeppelin cover band backed by the BPO, the near-complete orchestra drove home the majesty and maturity of one of the most influential bands in music history.
Before anyone hit a single note, Havens made clear that it was not a typical night at the symphony. Having taken the platform and recognized the BPO, the conductor halted before commencing – then turned slightly to the crowd, gesturing to make some noise. Mission accomplished: The band kicked in to the seat-back-slapping “Good Times, Bad Times.” Havens held the BPO back at first, before signaling for layers of strings to support George Cintron’s first of many fierce guitar solos a la Jimmy Page and vocalist Randy Jackson’s wild wailings in the unique metallic key of Robert Plant.
The ease-in of “Ramble On” allowed the BPO to slowly string up to the cathartic chorus, a beautiful ascent that spoke to the space within the Zeppelin sound – for as much as bassist Dan Clemens matched John Paul Jones’ melodic lines and drummer Powell Randolph pounded to the pulse of John Bonham, Havens had ample space to arrange for the orchestra to either echo Page’s masterful lead riffs, match the layers he often laid below them, or find and fill the space between it all.
“Rain Song” saw Jackson seated with a 12-string guitar and without the band, eminently smooth and seeming a more natural fit for orchestration before Havens took to tip-toes, arms outstretched with a split-second reminder that the ensemble was about to kick into the incredible ebb and flow of the classic rock epic. The obligatory “Kashmir” followed, Jackson’s voice warming up to the near-impossible heights of Plant’s prowess. Electric violinist Allegra seized the spotlight on “Black Dog” with a solo so searing that a blind observer could’ve mistaken it for guitar.
Though Jackson introduced “Since I’ve Been Loving You” as “Blues 101” and Cintron served as much, the BPO strings emerged in waves to fortify the song’s absolutely gripping progressions and full-form release before breaking down to a vocal-clarinet duet.
After easing into the second set with “Goin’ to California,” letting loose with “Moby Dick,” and closing with, of course, the soaring “Stairway to Heaven,” there was no doubt that the muscle of Led Zeppelin and elegance of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra are perfect partners.