It's difficult to imagine how certain rock groups — say, the Rolling Stones — could reasonably meld themselves and their music with a symphony orchestra.
After watching the Stones tribute group Satisfaction play with the Omaha Symphony on Friday night, however, one approach does come to mind. Rearrange the Stones orchestrations so the symphony and resident conductor Ernest Richardson are the featured performers, not the backups. Keep Chris LeGrand, who does a great Mick Jagger, and have drummer Wade Fowler sit in. Finally, call the show “The Omaha Symphony Presents the Music of the Rolling Stones with Chris LeGrand.”
Unfortunately, this weekend's program simulates how the real Stones of the past 30 years might fare with an orchestra. The reactions of a sparse Holland Performing Arts Center audience tell the story. They saved their greatest enthusiasm for the hometown ensemble — and the only time they really cheered the band was for an encore — you guessed it: “(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction” — that they didn't seem all that interested in seeking.
Maybe the band and a new audience will be more into the groove when the program repeats at 8 o'clock tonight. But when one tries to mix the Stones with an orchestra, the question arises: Is the problem with the music or the real-life characters the band members are trying to portray?
It's the real-life characters. Jim Riddick (playing lead Stones guitarist Keith Richards), Dominick Lanzo (as guitarist Ronnie Wood) and Marvin Sperling (as bassist Bill Wyman) look their parts and do reasonably good riffs. Riddick, in fact, had one of the night's best moments when LeGrand (as Jagger) introduced him as Richards and left the stage. “We're going to have a great time ...,” Riddick began, then trailed off into Richards' trademark mumbling, prompting laughter from the crowd.
But that's the trouble. Since their big hit “Start Me Up” in 1981, if not earlier, the prevailing image of the Stones has been that of a collection of dissipated, over-the-hill rockers. The symphony has had guest tribute bands before that injected quite a lot of energy into the Holland. But for most of Friday evening, Satisfaction's guitarists and bassist looked and played as though they were going through the motions.
The most engaging music consistently came from Richardson and the symphony, particularly as they introduced “Ruby Tuesday,” “Play With Fire,” “Angie” and especially “You Can't Always Get What You Want.” The sound of the full string section intoning the opening notes of the latter had to cause fans of the movie “The Big Chill” to flash back to the hearse pulling away from the church in the opening funeral scene. But then the band kicked in, the orchestra assumed its customary backup role — and the audience's enthusiasm faded. What if those luscious openings instead had been the precursor to full symphonic arrangements?
The symphony knows how to lay down a groove, as it showed again in “Jumpin' Jack Flash” and “Start Me Up.” That's why one can imagine Jagger — in his prime, anyway — strutting with this orchestra and feeling right at home. LeGrand overshot the classic high falsetto notes on “Miss You,” but his preening and attitude were classic Jagger.
In his short hair and polo shirt, Fowler didn't seem to be trying to evoke Stones drummer Charlie Watts except in his stick work. But Fowler provided his band with what energy it did have.