Brent Havens creates arrangements for one of the biggest tribute bands in existence. True, the personnel tends to shift with every new concert season, but the core instrumental lineup of rock band and the (fill-in-the-blank) orchestra stays the same.
The rockers travel from venue to venue and concertize with the local musicians. Everybody reads the arrangements and the two forces join in a loud but classy atmosphere, setting wailing guitars against burnished string sections and masses of brass and wind instruments.
Sometimes Havens travels to gigs with charts of music by the Eagles, or perhaps Pink Floyd or even the Doors. But his biggest, most consistent success is with the musical legacy left by Led Zeppelin.
Havens has led the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra through Led Zeppelin's dense, heavy-metal thickets in previous seasons and the buzz generated by past performances probably had a lot to do with the full house at this year's event.
While the rhythms were a tad squarer with the large ensemble than they would have been had the rockers been playing on their own, it was a tribute to Havens' abilities as an arranger and conductor that the two disparate groups were frequently able to generate the kind of flexible power necessary to propel this kind of music.
His arrangements seemed less stilted than in the past, too, with some effective writing for the wind and reed sections in "Thank You" more than adequately covering for the keyboard fills heard on Zeppelin's records.
Randy Jackson not only hit just about all the notes and shrieks that Zeppelin's Robert Plant sang, he also served as a credible master of ceremonies. He introduced the songs and the various members of the band, in addition to calling out to the audience to give the BPO their props, as it were.
Guitarist George Cintron and electric violinist Allegra had plenty of room to solo, and certainly made the most of their opportunities. Cintron was especially effective in aping Jimmy Page's guitar solos, but not to the extent that he neglected to inject some of his own musical ideas.
The set list was packed with hits and a few unexpected twists. Songs from classic rock radio playlists like "The Immigrant Song," "Whole Lotta Love" and "Kashmir" were set off by less frequently heard material -- if that can be said of any Led Zeppelin tune -- like "Ten Years Gone."
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
Performing the music of Led Zeppelin with Randy Jackson on Saturday in Kleinhans Music Hall.