By Lily Olason
The Seattle Rock Orchestra—helmed by artistic director Scott Teske, conductor Kim Roy, and creative director Emily Westman—hopped, skipped, and jumped up to Bellingham this evening for one hell of a show. Joining forces with the Whatcom Symphony for the second year in a row, the pair played the perennial hits of Motown, and the results were nothing short of magic.
The night opened with a soulful “Heard it Through the Grapevine”, and the rest followed suit. Vocalists Annie Jantzer, Ernest Pumphrey, Otieno Terry, and Miranda Zickler (of Bellingham’s Rabbit Wilde) floored with high-reaching harmonies and powerhouse solos, incredible range and gritty, rhythmic groove. The performance was authentic to the era but peppered with a subtle spin, and Emily Westman’s arrangements were stunningly well written.
The performance tapped over twenty hits, including “Heatwave,” “ABC,” “Higher and Higher,” and “Papa was a Rolling Stone”, and showed off what these guys and gals can do. Which is, of course, a lot.
Each vocalist consistently killed it in solo and harmony. Terry’s “Let’s Get it On” and “My Girl” were especially notable—his fantastic range can go from falsetto and back in a second, and navigates harmony and melody like it’s a cakewalk. Ernest Pumphrey held down both tenor and baritone, and his tone and ability to reach and project is truly gifted; “I Can’t Help Myself” (among several others) was a stunner.
Zickler sang Diana Ross, Queen of Motown, like nobody’s business and her take on “You Keep Me Hanging On” was inspired. Her style swings from sweet to Joplin-esque gravel without batting an eye and the genre crossover was awesome. Annie Jantzer’s solos, especially on the epic “I’ll Be There” were absolutely jaw dropping. She has a powerful, unique command of the voice you’d be hard-pressed to replicate. The quartet’s mash-up of “Stop! In the Name of Love” and “Reach Out!”, was a soulful tour-de-force and capitalized on the buckets of talent available on stage.
The Orchestra was, of course, absolutely wonderful. The WSO/SRO team never fails to make great music together-- “Papa was a Rolling Stone”, and its myriad parts and effects, particularly showcased this dynamic, and Teske and Westman’s grooving rhythm section blended well with the Symphony’s expansive bass and percussion.
This was a fantastically fun show. Aisle dancing abounded. People participated in “Shout!” a la Animal House. The Marvin Gaye encore brought down the house. There was explosive laughter and smiles. What better way to end a magnificent performance?
The SRO’s next gig is a tribute to Neil Diamond on Mother’s Day weekend in Seattle. Moms, kids, dads, and grandparents, grab your tickets and don’t miss out on this amazing group! Find more info here.