Chicago Meets Motown
That Motown Band and Beginnings at Town Hall
Reviewed by Jen Bush
The music of the band, Chicago, and the genre of Motown might seem like strange bedfellows to be sharing a bill. My curiosity beckoned me to look up some other unique concert pairings. I discovered that Jimi Hendrix opened for The Monkees, The Doors opened for Simon and Garfunkel and Alice Cooper opened for Chad and Jeremy. I’m glad Alice Cooper popped up on this list for reasons to be revealed later. Since the language of music is universal and most people embrace multiple genres, I say two full concerts for the price of one in a single evening is win-win situation.
That Motown Band took to the stage first. They all took great care in their appearance to look like a uniform band and wore matching suits. The ladies looked lovely as well in summery dresses. Chris Shaljian, the lead singer who had a strong yet pleasantly velvety voice, opened with “Baby, I Need your Lovin’”. For a brief moment, I thought Joseph Fiennes walked off the set of “A Handmaid’s Tale” and onto the stage to sing. There’s a strong resemblance. Just like The Commander in “A Handmaid’s Tale”, he commanded the stage. It was a measured start to a set of expected familiar Motown Fare. The band definitely had our attention but it was a simmering pot. I’ll chalk it up to the humidity because by the time they got to “Twisting the Night Away”, the pot was bubbling over with marked liveliness. It was impossible not to take notice of Mike Marcos on percussion. He was simply one of the happiest musicians I’ve ever seen in action. His happiness was matched by his skill because he played a mean bongo to boot. Another very happy and animated clam on stage was sax player and vocalist, Tom Mineo. His sax playing was glorious but if he ever chose to put down the sax and join the vocalists at the forefront, his talent, stage presence and energy would have worked very well there too. I dubbed guitarist Johnny Gale, the mayor of the stage.
Not only could he wield his axe with precision, he had a monster stage presence. Here comes the Alice Cooper reference. He reminded me of a polished Alice Cooper which is definitely a compliment because I love Alice Cooper. He is a very accomplished and experienced musician with a long list of diverse credits of people he played or recorded with including Ringo Starr and Dion. He bopped around the stage interacting with everyone in a fun manner which positively contributed to the spirit of the evening. Vocalist Nathina Inez certainly demonstrated her amazing range in her show stopping rendition of “I want you Back”. Complimenting Nathina was sultry vocalist Natasha Nadia McDuffie. The ladies did a fine job of providing background vocals and shined during their solo numbers. The special guests were truly special. Three-time Grammy nominee Ryan Shaw absolutely tore it up. His voice was flawless and he got everyone dancing in their seats. Charlie Ingui, the original singer from Soul Survivors did a vigorous job of ending the evening with a fan favorite, “Love Train”. It’s as if no time had passed at all. He looked and sounded wonderful. That Motown Band is a solid operation. Their song transitions were well selected. Their harmonies blended together beautifully. It was a pleasure to be entertained by them.
After a brief intermission, Beginnings, a Chicago tribute band immediately owned the stage. I didn’t say take to the stage because frankly, that’s too benign for their explosive entrance. They burst onto the stage like the rock stars that they are and kept up that energy for the entire performance. Seemingly infused with Red Bull, they were actually infused with passion for what they were doing. Now, I was not that familiar with the catalog of Chicago. They were not in heavy rotation on my playlists. Well, if truth be told, there were not in ANY rotation on my playlists. A puzzle piece of that nature didn’t fit well with Guns N’ Roses and Avenged Sevenfold. None of that mattered. This band will make a Chicago fan out of anyone.
The band consisted of front man Mason Swearingen on bass and vocals, Johnny Roggio on guitar and vocals, Scott Chasolen on keyboards and vocals, Chris Milillo on drums and vocals, Adam Seely on Sax, Doug Woolverton on Trumpet and Dan Hendrix on Trombone. Each and every one of these gentlemen had an impressive laundry list of credits to their name. Their experience and expertise showed. This snazzy dressed operation has been taking the world on a fantastic tour of Chicago since 2002. All that time to hone their craft and integrate the best of Chicago’s sound into theirs has allowed them to have staunch command of their instruments and lucky for us, have maximum fun being consummate entertainers.
Their smiles were brighter than the lighting rig and if the sound had been turned off the entire show, I still would have enjoyed the show because they had an exuberantly fun stage presence. It’s interesting that I referenced Guns N’ Roses earlier because Mason Swearingen has Axl’s snake dance down pat and I do believe I witnessed jumping jacks while the band dutifully played their instruments. I cannot mention a standout because they were all amazing and at the top of their game. Mason Swearingen had incredibly powerhouse vocals. At times, if I closed my eyes, I would not have known the difference between him and Peter Cetera. He is a talented, engaging and dynamic performer. I was not surprised to read that guitarist Johnny Roggio was in the Rock of Ages band on Broadway. He had the whole package going on. He looked like a rock star, his tone was impeccable and his playing deific. The interplay between he and Mason Swearingen was great fun to watch. He can sing too. His more gravely voice in contrast to Mason Swearingen’s more pure tone vocals provided a nice contrast. Scott Chasolen on keys was like Animal from the Muppets on drums. He was tickling those ivories and they were laughing uncontrollably! As if it wasn’t enough to have two talented singers in the band, here come Scott Chasolen with some more amazing pipes. Does anybody really know what time it is? Well, the drummer Chris Milillo certainly does and he kept perfect time. He gets bonus points for wearing a red shirt, matching his kit and the rug underneath. It should be no surprise that he could sing too and he sang well while driving the band with precision drumming. The horn section delivered some powerful revelry with perfectly synced choreography. These virtuosos and heavy hitters in the horn industry were spot on and “toot sweet”! This band was tight and rock solid. Their comradery showed. They finished each other’s musical sentences and conveyed that they were happy to be there and that they were going to entertain the hell out of us, which they did in spades! All the songs were brilliantly executed with unbridled joy of blissful musicians. Two concerts for the price of one added up to be a very enjoyable evening of masterful music at Town Hall.
Photo Credit: Sara Lopez Photography