BWW Reviews: Gregory Charles' VINTAGE LIVE is Electrifying Fun
Spring has sprung. With warmer weather and sunny days, New York City is ready to shake off the doldrums of winter. Luckily for the city that never sleeps, Canadian superstar Gregory Charles is bringing his revered piano man skills and keen ear for music to a truly unique concert experience. In a mindboggling pop-up on Pier 97 in the Hudson River Park, audiences are invited to take in VINTAGE LIVE, where Gregory Charles and his skilled band play a fascinating set of audience requests.
With a repertoire of approximately 28,000 songs ranging from 1928 to present, there really isn't a request that Gregory Charles and his band cannot do. At the VINTAGE LIVE performance I took in, the extremely talented band offered rousing renditions of songs from "Feelin' Good" (Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse) in the style of Nina Simone to "Forsaken" by Dream Theater. They also did a gospel version of the Bob Marley hit "No Woman, No Cry" (Vincent Ford) that was pristinely mashed-up with "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" (Gerry Goffin, Carole King, Jerry Wexler) in the style of Aretha Franklin.
The concept for VINATGE LIVE is relatively simple. Inspired by the bands that booked gigs like weddings in the 1950s and 60s, Gregory Charles remarks that "bands were used as DJ's, so they couldn't stop." Naturally, "the more they played, the more people danced, and the more people drank." To pull this off "they either had a set list or the band leader would give them signals about where they were going, at least the keys that they would be playing. My dad taught me that language when I was a kid, and when I started working with musicians I did the same thing. It's not super complicated. Depending on which way my hand is oriented towards the musician, I'm either giving out keys, or I'm giving out degrees within a key." This is where the magic lies. His band does not know what song he is going to throw their way, but they follow his hand signals to know the key of the song. He starts the tune, the crowd goes wild, and his band plays on with enough musical knowledge and precision to give the illusion that they always knew what would happen next.
Because this lively and energetic show requires the audience to participate to determine what music is heard, Gregory Charles and company had to come up with a way for the audience to communicate with him. When it all began, the crowd simply wrote their request on their ticket and he drew tickets from an onstage box. Technology has allowed him to have a more sophisticated set up that utilizes a brief pre-show questionnaire and for them to communicate during the show via their smartphones. This makes the show fun and appropriate for all audiences. It also allows for a visceral discovery of music. "A young girl talked to me after the show and said, 'You know what? It makes older music more interesting to me,'" reminisces Gregory Charles. "'To hear the song that someone requested and to hear it linked to other songs.'"
While Gregory Charles is the star of the show, there is no denying that his band thrills the audience with ease. Gregory Charles, on piano and vocals, is joined by Danny Ranallo on guitar, Sylvian Bertand on bass, Tony Albino on drums, Gabriel Gagnon-Bertand on keyboards, Jean-François Gagnon on trumpet, Richard Beaudet on saxophone/reeds, Matthieu VanVliet on trombone, and Kim Richardson on backvocals. Each member is brilliantly adept at creating music and delivering electrifying performances. "All of that [each individual band member's talent] comes together, and my job in a way is to be knowledgeable enough to know how to orchestrate the music that's requested," explains Gregory Charles. "And my job primarily is to make everyone shine - to use everyone so that their talent shines."
VINTAGE LIVE is truly a special experience. As Gregory Charles says, "They say that music is a universal language and it is, but the way people react about music is also universal. You know that a song means something special to everyone. It's like, we all understand it. We all understand that when someone loves a song, there's a reason behind it, and when a song is picked, everyone gets excited because it's like your identity is recognized."
VINTAGE LIVE is currently performing at LeQube through May 2, 2015. LeQube, the fascinating pop-up that houses the concert, is located at Pier 97 Hudson River Park (12th Ave and 57th St), cross at 55th Street and 12th Avenue, New York 10019. For tickets and more information, please visit http://vintagelive.com/ or call 1-855-563-4433.