BY EDWARD WILLETT, THE LEADER-POST OCTOBER 12, 2009
Robert Michaels with the Regina Symphony Orchestra
It’s a cliche, after a concert on a chilly Saskatchewan night, to say something about the performer heating things up inside despite the world outside having turned prematurely white. But if there were ever a performer to whom that cliche was perfectly suited, it would have to be Robert Michaels, the Juno Award-winning guitarist who joined forces with the Regina Symphony Orchestra for Saturday’s Flamenco Fire concert, the first in this year’s Shumiatcher Pops Series.
From the opening number, it was easy to imagine, as Maestro Victor Sawa suggested, that you were sitting in Spain’s Sierra Nevada mountains sipping sangria as the sun set. Though the repertoire ranged from original compositions by Michaels to a traditional Neopolitan love song, the Mason Williams hit “Classical Gas,” and the Doors’ “Riders on the Storm,” it all had that Flamenco feel, full of fire, frenetic finger work, dramatic chords and melancholy progressions. At the centre of it all was Michaels, wearing a blue shirt and black pants, striding back and forth across the stage, playing to the front row, and at one point even descending into the audience.
He was backed by Eric Soostar, who got some amazing sounds out of his fretless bass — at one point I was convinced the trombone section had joined in on a number only to realize their instruments were still lowered and those sustained, horn-like notes were coming from him– and Larry Crow on drums and the cajon (Spanish for box). From the audience, the cajon looked like an ordinary wooden box Crow straddled, but if you closed your eyes, it could have been a full drum kit, complete with bass and snare. To be honest, the trio was sufficient unto itself, and on the joint numbers the orchestra served mostly as sonic background, a musical colour field against which the notes of the guitar stood out like bright stars in a dark-blue desert sky. (One spectacular exception was concertmaster Eduard Minevich’s sizzling solo on “Tango Di Vincenzo.”) The percussion section was called on to good effect on several numbers, and the brass provided some welcome brilliance and fire, but really the show belonged to Michaels and his trio. Fortunately, though it would have been nice to hear more from the orchestra, they were so good that no one was left feeling short-changed.
On a couple of numbers, flamenco dancer Melanie Buttarazzi, Michaels’s daughter (who, he proudly pointed out, made the top 20 on So You Think You Can Dance Canada), added additional fiery flare. Michaels’s easygoing stage presence added to the feeling of simply enjoying an evening with close friends in a small Spanish town, and he carried that sense of accessibility into the lobby, signing CDs and chatting with a long line of autograph seekers for well over an hour. And yes, to complete the cliche, it was a shock to step from the theatre into the early throes of winter … but the lingering warmth of Flamenco Fire made it a little easier to bear.
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