Brody Dolyniuk is the master tribute artist. He stood in for Freddie Mercury at the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s tribute to Queen. He also stepped into Mick Jagger’s shoes.
Saturday in Kleinhans Music Hall, he sat at the Steinway, donned flashy glasses and sang the bittersweet ballads of Elton John.
This BPO Rocks concert was as close as you could get to Sir Elton without seeing him in person at an arena. Dolyniuk does not try to impersonate the artists to whom he pays tribute. He looks like himself and acts like himself.
But he gets the big things right – the vocal inflections, the spirit. The gestures, even. Saturday, he kept the crowd laughing by demonstrating how Elton John is always pointing to audience members, and when he does, they shout and cheer.
The crowd – close to capacity, by the way – loved that. Dolyniuk would point, and we would scream.
It was all a lot of fun. There were wistful notes, too.
Dolyniuk said he grew emotional singing Elton John ballads, and it was easy to believe that, hearing him sing “Candle in the Wind,” “Daniel,” simple but effective “Your Song” and “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me.” He captured the peculiar poignancy of “Rocket Man,” about the lonely astronaut lost in space. The performances had a straightforward grace.
The accompaniment was loud – but hey, that’s the way things were when Elton John was recording these numbers. The rock combo that joined the orchestra laid down a heavy beat, and you couldn’t catch every word, or every piano curlicue you hear on the records, or the individual members of the BPO. But it all worked. Dolyniuk had confidence to burn, nailed the chords and sang with conviction.
Humor was never far away and it was a riot to hear him rock through “Benny and the Jets,” falsetto and all. “Honky Cat” got a funky tone from Dolyniuk’s honky-tonk piano and got the joint jumping.
“I’m Still Standing,” from the early ’80s, was a nice change of pace. You had to think: Here it is 30 years later, and Elton John is still standing.
The show moved well, no surprise seeing it is under the direction of Brent Havens, who also masterminds the BPO tributes to Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and other rock greats. Havens did the uncompromising arrangements and, on the podium, held it all together.
Havens got a few minutes off when the podium was turned over to Julie Kramp, the winner of a contest on WHTT 104.1, the classic rock station. The prize was to conduct the BPO, and she did, competently laying down the beat to “Crocodile Rock.” Elegant in a long black skirt, Kramp was outgoing and funny. Havens, swaying and clapping, seemed to enjoy the breather.
All in all, it was a fine time, and a satisfying collection of hits. As was the case with the recent John Denver pops concert, most of us probably had one song or another we would have liked to hear but didn’t. My wish list included “Skyline Pigeon” and “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues.” Well, maybe there will be a part two. This is a new show, incidentally. Buffalo is the first town to hear it.
The restless Dolyniuk, meanwhile, is already looking to the next challenge. He hinted that soon, he would return in a tribute to David Bowie.
I have no doubt he can pull it off.
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra's Elton John Tribute
Saturday night at Kleinhans Music Hall