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A groovy night of '60s tunes brings back memories

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The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra tripped down memory lane Friday night, paying tribute to the psychedelic '60s with its latest Pops concert, Woodstock.

The program led by WSO resident conductor Richard Lee showcased former Triumph guitarist/vocalist Rik Emmett backed by the popular Jeans 'n Classics Band.

The JNCB comprised of John Regan (piano/host); Peter Brennan (guitar); Mitch Tyler (bass); and Jeff Christmas (drums) with alternating lead vocalists: Neil Donnell, Jean Meilleur, Katalin Kiss and Rique Franks has appeared many times on the WSO stage. Founded nearly 20 years ago by Brennan, their themed programs marry guest rock stars with symphony orchestras, offering an array of packaged shows including: ABBA, Sting, the Beatles, Elton John, Queen and Led Zeppelin. It's a testament to their slick presentation and strong musicianship that this London-Ont.-based group is still rocking out and on the road.

Regan kept the fast-paced show moving, wittily setting up each of the 16 musical numbers and providing context that bordered on a musical history lesson. There's an old joke that says if you remember the '60s then you weren't even there. Well, it's fair to say that many of the multi-generational crowd of 1,214, while perhaps not having attended Woodstock, actually did recall the Summer of Love, loudly cheering for their favourite hits as the band played on.

First out of the gate came Jefferson Airplane's Somebody To Love featuring the husky vocals of Franks. This dynamo belts it out for all she's worth and is always a treat to hear.

So, too, is Donnell who seemed to channel gritty blues singer Joe Cocker in Delta Lady before slipping into a cover of Blood, Sweat, & Tears You Make Me So Very Happy.

Unfortunately, Kiss did not fare as well in White Rabbit, appearing to strain for her top notes, and even at times overshadowed by the raw energy of the musicians. This is such a great, albeit, disturbing song that more power was needed as the piece climaxes and the drug-addled images build.

Meilleur's Hot Fun in the Summertime, backed by the smooth vocals of Kiss and Franks, gave winter-weary Winnipeggers something to dream about.

Canadian rock hero Emmett still performs with the energy and passion of a man half his age. After finally appearing onstage at 8:30 p.m., his wailing delivery of Santana's Samba Pa Ti included all the licks and riffs one would expect, matched only by Hendrix's All Along the Watchtower including some nifty guitar effects.

Black Magic Woman brought him back to the stage after intermission, with his vocals at times paling in comparison to his ever-strong guitar chops.

The concert repeats tonight at 8 p.m, with a Sunday matinee, 2 p.m. at the Centennial Concert Hall.

Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra: Pops Woodstock

Friday, February 22

Centennial Concert Hall

Attendance: 1,214

(three and a half stars out of five)

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 23, 2013 A19

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