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BPO gets Canalside swinging with R&B classics

Anyone flirting with utterly falling in love with Buffalo, and all its summertime musical offerings, may have gone head over heels Thursday night during the free Canalside Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra concert. With a temperate evening, a salmon-colored sun hanging in the sky over the lake, and happy dance music on stage, it was a jubilant party.

The crowd, largely seated in Canalside’s iconic Adirondack chairs, and chairs brought from home, vied for real estate on the lawn. Others stood on the cobblestone from in front of the stage to the rear of the venue near the food vendor area replete with food trucks serving classic Buffalo fare and other finger foods. The place was packed.

Hitting the stage were members of the BPO under the baton of Matthew Kraemer, outgoing associate conductor after five years in the city: Kraemer is off to two orchestral gigs in Pennsylvania. The ever-smiling Kraemer, dressed in casual black attire, clearly enjoyed his time on the Canalside stage and in front of Canadian band Jeans ’n Classics of London, Ont. The set featured hits by both Earth, Wind & Fire and later-career Michael Jackson, divided fairly evenly with songs familiar to anyone who has been within a mile of a dance floor since the 1970s.

The jazz-infused R&B of EWF and the funk-fueled pop of Jackson proved a perfect way to meld a bouncing cover band and the classical stylings of the orchestra.

“September,” a ’70s EWF dance classic, was a subtle reminder that summer, and the Canalside concert series, is nearing its seasonal end. “Remember, the true love we share today,” go the lyrics. And then it was on to more upbeat tunes, including “Got to Get You Into My Life” and “Shining Star,” the last of EWF material before things turned over to the oeuvre of Jackson.

The bouncing guitar (with lovely classical embellishments) of “Billy Jean,” off the mega-hit recording “Thriller,” was the first of 10 Jackson hits performed by the BPO. The mood dipped down during “I Want You Back,” before perking up again mightily for “Rock With You.”

The energy didn’t lag the rest of the set, with dancing on stage and off, strong beats and shout-outs to the enthusiastic crowd, before ending with one of Jackson’s quirkiest hits, “Thriller.” And, of course, there are always those who know – and do – the group dance with zombie moves made famous by the song’s accompanying video.

The night’s last Jackson hit, “Man in the Mirror,” off of the release “Bad,” was a lush and string-enhanced ending to a perfect summer night of en plain air music. With the motivational refrain “If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself, and then make a change,” it was not the most danceable, but the sunniest song under the waxing summer moon.

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