The McGuigan Invasion

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On Feb 9, 1964, a group known as The Beatles made an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.  Their triumphant American debut not only forever altered the course of American music, but triggered an event known as The British Invasion as a slew of English bands would find their way to our shores to dominate the pop charts.  Last night at the Wilson Performing Arts Center in Red Oak, IA, people got a chance to either relive that era or experience it for the first time with Billy McGuigan’s latest show, The British Invasion.

Like the Beatles, Billy McGuigan continues to churn out hit after hit and his latest show is certainly no exception.  With his one of a kind energy and ability, Billy and his band, the Downliners, took the audience on a blitzkrieg tour of the British Invasion as they snapped out a wide arrangement of songs from a variety of bands such as The Who, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Petula Clark, The Dave Clark 5, Herman’s Hermits, Cream, Them, The Rolling Stones, and, of course, The Beatles.

Billy McGuigan was in especially good voice last night and set the tone for the night with his opening number of The Who’s “Pinball Wizard” complete with some pinwheel guitar playing ala Pete Townshend. From there, he gave his rich tenor quite the hefty workout.  Whether he was belting out hard rocking numbers such as “Under My Thumb” and “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” from the Rolling Stones complete with Mick Jaggeresque dancing and strutting to singing lighter rock numbers such as Herman’s Hermits’ “Something Tells Me I’m Into Something Good” to gently emoting tender tunes like Peter and Gordon’s “I Go to Pieces”, McGuigan could simply do no wrong.

McGuigan also proved his remarkable versatility by tackling The Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun” with a take that would make Eric Burdon proud.  And he actually made me like a Van Morrison song (my favorite number of the night, actually) with his interpretation of Them’s “Here Comes the Night”.

Billy McGuigan was powerfully supported by his multitalented band, the Downliners, including his brothers, Ryan and Matthew McGuigan, on percussion, bass, and backing vocals who shined in their own numbers.  Matthew worked some magic with The Kinks’ “Tired of Waiting of You” while Ryan was in full John Lennon mode with The Beatles’ “Twist and Shout” before the two joined forces on the awesome “Revolution”.  Tara Vaughan tickled the ivories as only she can and was featured in several numbers as her, oh so gorgeous, alto attacked Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man” and Petula Clark’s “Downtown”.  Omaha’s answer to Pete Townshend, Max Meyer, dazzled the audience with skillful lead guitar playing and solos while Adam Stoltenberg’s drumming was the unbreakable foundation for these numbers.

Early in the night, Billy told the audience that for a fraction of the cost of a Rolling Stones ticket we were actually hearing the same songs complete with lyrics and sung in tune.  Well, the ticket may have been a fraction of the cost, but the talent is absolutely priceless as Billy and the Downliners make these classic songs their own and you should certainly get a ticket the next time you hear that Billy McGuigan and The British Invasion is coming your way.

Locally, Billy McGuigan will be back in action on March 30,2019 when he teams up with the Omaha Symphony at the Holland Performing Arts Center in Omaha, NE with yet another new show, America Rocks the 60s.  Ticket prices start at $19 and can be purchased at Ticket Omaha.

This summer, Billy’s keyboardist, Tara Vaughan, formally debuts her own show, She Rocks!, over at the Omaha Community Playhouse.  This production features the legendary hits of female singers and songwriters and will run for 3 weeks beginning on June 13, 2019.  Tickets begin at $30 and can also be purchased at Ticket Omaha.

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Twist it Up, Billy

You are entering a fun dimension of sight and sound.  A world where rock tunes are performed like big band numbers and big band numbers are given a rock flair.  You are entering the Omaha Community Playhouse to watch Billy McGuigan’s Rock Twist.

Yes, indeed, Billy McGuigan and his band have returned to OCP and they’re playing 60s hits (with a pinch of 70s and a smidge of 80s) in ways you’ve never heard them before.  “But, Chris,” I hear you say.  “Isn’t this just the same show as last year?”  And the answer is a most emphatic, “No!”  Not only does the show have a new set and lights courtesy of Jim Othuse and Tyler Packett, but they also have a new set list.  True, some of the hits from last year return, but there’s also plenty of new material so you can enjoy this show anew.

There’s something for everyone in this production as you’ll hear hits from Frank Sinatra, the Ronettes, Lulu, Billy Joel, Harry Connick, Jr., the Doors, Duke Ellington, and, yes, even the Beatles and Buddy Holly, plus more played as only the maestro of Omaha and his band can play them.

Billy McGuigan once again rules the stage with his killer stage presence and insane musical chops.  McGuigan is an artist of rare versatility who can smoothly glide from a Frank Sinatra number to a Doors hit just as easily as he switches from guitar to piano.  McGuigan constantly thrilled and energized the audience with varied hits such as smooth standard style songs like Frank Sinatra’s “Come Fly with Me” and Harry Connick Jr.’s “Come By Me”; hard rockers like “Live and Let Die” by Paul McCartney and Wings and the Guess Who’s “She’s Come Undone”; and soft ballads such as Buddy Holly’s “True Love Ways” and the Beatles’ “Here, There, and Everywhere”.

Co-starring with Billy is the one and only Tara Vaughan who spent the night tickling the ivories and shining in her own set of hits from powerful female singers.  You’ll thrill as Ms Vaughan’s sensuous alto belts out Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Were Made for Walking”, slows it down for the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby”, and invites you to go “Downtown” with Petula Clark.

This show couldn’t be done without the assistance of a stellar band which includes some of the finest musicians and singers in the city.  Backing vocals are supplied by Ryan & Matthew McGuigan and Jessica Errett.  Strings are provided by Christina Allred on cello and Olga Smola on violin and, prior to tonight, I was unaware at how well strings could be used on rock numbers.  Steve Gomez helps to drive the action with his bass while Max Meyer shows some Pete Townshendish ability with his guitar solos.  Patrick Brown and Andrew Janak soar on alto and tenor saxophone.  Janak also arranged all of the night’s incredible music.  Patrick Peters keeps the groove sliding with his trombone.  Tomm Roland keeps the beat as only he can on drums.  Last, but certainly not least, is local jazz legend, Doyle Tipler, trumpeting with all of his might.

If you haven’t seen a Billy McGuigan show yet, what on earth are you waiting for?  This show only has a limited two week run, so get a ticket while a ticket can still be got.  I promise you a great time with a show suitable for the young and young at heart.  The only way you couldn’t have fun is if you’re comatose and, even then, I bet your pulse would still be beating in time with the music.

Billy McGuigan’s Rock Twist plays at the Omaha Community Playhouse through August 12.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets cost $42 and can be found at www.omahaplayhouse.com or www.ticketomaha.com or by calling OCP at 402-553-0800.  The Omaha Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass Street in Omaha, NE.

Rock Twist and Shout

It’s rock numbers done with a big band flair.  It’s big band numbers done rock style.  It’s Billy McGuigan’s Rock Twist and it is rocking out at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

If there is anyone out there who harbors any doubts about the talent of Billy McGuigan, they will surely be dispelled after watching this show.  Putting it simply, this man is a musical and performing savant.  There isn’t a genre of music he can’t play.  He has stage presence for which directors would kill.  He has a charming affability which makes you feel like an old friend spending an evening at his house.

Even I, who has had the pleasure of listening to Billy’s shows pretty regularly over the past 15 years, was completely blown away by this production.  It has something for everyone.  Do you like rock?  Well, you’ll get to hear the Beatles, the Who, the Beach Boys, Elvis, and Billy Joel.  Is adult contemporary/jazz your bag?  You’ll hear some Frank Sinatra and Harry Connick, Jr.  And each song has a unique arrangement that will make it seem like you’re hearing it for the first time all over again.

From the opening number of Billy Joel’s “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant”, Billy had the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand.  His pure tenor soared throughout the night as he sang renditions of “Yesterday”, “Luck be a Lady”, “God Only Knows”, “Time Won’t Let Me”, “Heartbreak Hotel”, “Pinball Wizard” and a cover of “Here, There, and Everywhere” supported only by bass and percussion that was so moving that I started to tear up a bit.

Billy was just as adept keeping the audience’s attention between numbers with a low key storytelling style as he shared stories behind the numbers, regaled us with some humorous anecdotes, and told a couple of tender tales about his career and life.

Every good front man needs an excellent band and McGuigan’s band brought it and then some.  Steve Gomez’s bass hummed all night long and his musical direction was so precise and on target.  Andrew Janak stunned on the tenor saxophone and I tip my hat to him for arranging all of these sensational numbers.  Max Meyer’s lead guitar work was the feat of a prodigy.  Tomm Roland’s drum work never missed a beat.  Omaha legend, Doyle Tipler, never fell flat with his trumpeting.  Patrick Brown shined on the alto sax and Patrick Peters’ trombone playing couldn’t have been any tighter.  Tara Vaughan’s piano playing is always a treat for the ears and her rich alto got its own moment to shine with a medley of “Downtown” and “To Sir, With Love”.  Backup vocals were supplied by the multitalented trio of Matthew and Ryan McGuigan and Jessica Errett who dazzled in their own featured songs, “634-5789” and “We’re Going to a Go-Go”.  And I’d like to give special notice to Steve Wheeldon whose lighting was so atmospheric and enhanced every song.

To be frank, when I first heard about Billy’s new show I thought he had taken on a real challenge for himself by putting new twists on old classics.  But he proved why he is Omaha’s premiere entertainer with this brand new show that will undoubtedly be another roaring success.  My only disappointment was that there wasn’t another hour to this show.  Or two.  Perhaps five.  Well, you get the idea.  This show only has a limited run, so get your tickets fast and prepare yourselves for an amazing time.

Billy McGuigan’s Rock Twist plays at the Omaha Playhouse from July 12-23.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets cost $40 or $35 for groups of 12 or more.  For tickets, contact the box office at 402-553-0800 or visit www.omahaplayhouse.com or www.ticketomaha.com.  The Omaha Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass Street in Omaha, NE.