A Melange of McGuigan

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He’s been thrilling crowds since 2002.  Now the master maestro of Omaha, Billy McGuigan, is set to make his 500th performance at the Omaha Community Playhouse and it will happen during his latest run of Billy McGuigan’s Rock Twist.

Billy McGuigan was ready to rock tonight and, believe me, that’s really saying something.  Attacking the music with a thunderous energy that never let up and actually increased to something cataclysmic, McGuigan and his Pop Rock Orchestra delivered a fiercely awesome 2+ hour concert that had the audience in the palm of their hands from the first note to the last clap.

If you have never seen Billy McGuigan’s Rock Twist before (and if you haven’t, what’s wrong with you?) what you get is a show that offers classic rock songs done with a big band flair.  Even if you have seen this show, you really need to see this incarnation as Billy and company have completely revamped the show with a new set, lights, set up, and an almost completely new set list.  Truthfully, I rank this as one of McGuigan’s best performances to date and I have seen plenty of them over the years.

Few connect with an audience the way McGuigan can with his charming wit and storytelling abilities and when you add in his phenomenal musical abilities, you’re really in for something special.

Versatile seems almost too small a word for a guy who makes everything he plays sound like his own creation.  McGuigan hit the ground running with ELO’s “Evil Woman” and ran through rockers such as The Doors’ “Touch Me” and Sly and the Family Stone’s “Dance to the Music” with his pulse pounding tenor and killed it in a guitar duel with Omaha’s personal Pete Townshend, Max Meyer, in the Everly Brothers’ “Bye Bye Love”.

McGuigan also slowed it down a notch with the Beatles’ beautiful “Yesterday” backed by the string trio of Melissa Holtmeier, Axelle Verboon, and Mindy Zimmerman.  And tears were a flowing when he teamed up with Tara Vaughan to perform an epic take on Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water”.

Speaking of Tara Vaughan, the mistress of the keyboards also got a fair chance to shine throughout the night with her one of a kind tickling of the ivories and that dreamy alto serenading the crowd with Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Were Made for Walking”, the Supremes’ “Stop!  In the Name of Love”, and Lulu’s “To Sir, With Love”.

Featured performances were supplied by Natalie Thomas who practically had the audience purring with a throaty, sultry interpretation of Ike and Tina Turner’s version of “Proud Mary” that was further bolstered with the almighty tenor of Ryan McGuigan; Steve Gomez made his singing debut with The Champs’ “Tequila” which featured his singular bass playing and a stellar solo from Stan Harper on saxophone; Matthew McGuigan took a moment in the sun with The Temptations’ “My Girl”; Omaha’s legendary jazz musician, Doyle Tipler, soloed on his trademark trumpet as only he could; Patrick Peters and Willie Karpf solidly rounded out the horns while the Doctor, Tomm Roland, kept the beat going on his drums.

The volume of the microphones could have used some slight boosting on a couple of occasions, but the only real disappointment of the night was that it had to end at all.

If you haven’t had a chance to see a show with Billy McGuigan and his band, this is the one to see.  You’ll feel like a million bucks before the night is through and if you strike fast you may be able to snatch up a ticket to see that magical 500th performance on August 17.  But any night of this run is going to be smoking good.

Billy McGuigan’s Rock Twist runs through August 18 at the Omaha Community Playhouse.  Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets start at $42 and can be obtained at www.omahaplayhouse.com, by calling 402-553-0800, or visiting the Box Office.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

Photo provided by Omaha Community Playhouse.

Masterful Musicians Make Magnificent Music

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Billy McGuigan and the Downliners (From left to right: Tara Vaughan, Ryan McGuigan, Matthew McGuigan, Billy McGuigan, Adam Stoltenberg, and Max Meyer)

Take a tour through the history of classic rock and roll as Billy McGuigan and his band play the hits from the 50s through the 70s in Rock Legends.  Last night Billy and his band, the Downliners, played a sold out, tour de force performance at the Davies Amphitheater in Glenwood, IA.

The show was actually billed as Rock Show, but was a variation of McGuigan’s Rock Legends production.  Billy McGuigan once more demonstrated his seemingly limitless musical talent with a pulse pounding, non-stop 90 minute ride that displays an encyclopedic knowledge of classic rock.  Billy and the Downliners played some of the biggest hits of the best known bands of the 50s-70s, but also included several one hit wonders and hits that simply don’t get much airplay nowadays.  Imbued with that inimitable McGuigan energy, one would swear that Billy and the band wrote all of these tunes themselves as the music seems so fresh and extemporaneous.

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Mark Irvin

The night’s entertainment opened up with Omaha singer/songwriter, Mark Irvin.  Irvin has a voice reminiscent of Bryan Adams and a stage presence similar to Roy Orbison.  It’s just a man, his guitar, and his music.  Irvin is a powerhouse talent whose warm tenor haunted the audience with original numbers such as “I Will Surrender to You”, “I Finally Got it Right”, and “Fly With Me”.  He also did an impressive cover of Kenny Loggins’ “Danny’s Song” that had the audience singing right along with him.  If you want to get a taste of Irvin’s talent, his music is available on Spotify, iTunes, and Amazon.

Then it was time for the featured act and Billy and company hit the ground running and never let up.

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Billy McGuigan

Billy McGuigan drove the night with his trademark wit and indefatigable energy.  He and his potent tenor went through an impressive range of high octane songs from “Bye, Bye Love” by the Everly Brothers to “Good Lovin’” by the Rascals to the first rock song, Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock”.  How he does this without wearing out, I’ll never know, but he did give himself a bit of a breather with a small set of slower songs capped with a particularly touching rendition of “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying” by Gerry and the Pacemakers.

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Tara Vaughan

It’s as much fun to watch Tara Vaughan perform as it is to listen to her sing.  Performance wise, she reminds me of Bob Marley in the sense that, like him, she is totally immersed in the music.  She doesn’t just play the keyboards with her fingers, she plays with her whole body, heart, and soul.  And that sultry alto had me looking for a cold drink after some of her numbers.  Notable turns from her came with Lulu’s “To Sir, With Love”, a rocking rendition of the Gene Pitney penned Crystals hit, “He’s a Rebel”, and a dazzling take on “A Little Piece of My Heart” that would have made Janis Joplin proud.

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Ryan & Matthew McGuigan

Ryan & Matthew McGuigan nailed it in their time in the spotlight.  Ryan paid homage to John Lennon and the Beatles with his takes on “I Feel Fine” and the Lennon solo in “This Boy”.  Matthew got a chance to show some impressive versatility as he did The Monkees’ “I’m a Believer” before segueing into Elvis soundalike Terry Stafford’s one hit wonder, “Suspicions”.

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Adam Stoltenberg & Max Meyer

Solid support was provided in the forms of Max Meyer and Adam Stoltenberg.  Meyer provided a series of superb solos on lead guitar while Stoltenberg’s drum work set a crucial backbeat.  Both also got a moment to sing when they each took some verses in The Band’s “The Weight” which was sung by the entire band.

When people hear the name Billy McGuigan, some think Buddy Holly while others may think the Beatles.  When I hear the name, I think he’s one of the best musicians Omaha has ever produced.  Normally, this is the point where I encourage you to get a ticket.  Sadly this was a one night only concert, but fear not.  You have another chance to catch Bily and company in action when Billy McGuigan’s Rock Twist opens at the Omaha Playhouse on August 1.  The show runs through August 12 with performances running Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Contact OCP at 402-553-0800 or visit www.omahaplayhouse.com or www.ticketomaha.com for tickets.

But take my advice, when Rock Legends performs again, don’t miss it.  It’s awesome!

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.