Review: Rock Orchestra marries rock and classical music in Pittsburgh show

It’s been more than 40 years since AC/DC or Motörhead played the Stanley Theater in Pittsburgh. But their songs — albeit in significantly reimagined versions — found new life Monday night at the Benedum Center (formerly known as the Stanley Theatre).

In about 90 minutes, the show, presented as Rock Orchestra by Candlelight, took a tour of alternative and classic rock, as well as metal (with heavy and nu varieties represented). The band made its first trip to the United States for a short tour of the Northeast that ended Monday with a sold-out concert in Pittsburgh.

Comprised of seven women and five men, the band covers most categories of musical instruments, with strings, brass, woodwinds and percussion represented. Dressed in all black with various boned shirts or leggings, the glittering face masks allowed the focus to remain on the marriage of classical and rock music.

Rock Orchestra took the stage — with twisting towers of skulls on either side, a giant moving skull in the middle and four more skulls covered in candles — to AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck,” with Pittsburgh native Kyle Morgan tearing through a solo on saxophone. (The band’s second set also included “Back in Black” by AC/DC, who played the Stanley in 1977, 1979 and 1980.)

Papa Roach’s “Last Resort” gained newfound respect after its symphonic overhaul, while Linkin Park’s “Numb” featured the first appearance of singer Erin Fox.

Singer Skye Murphy joined Fox for a duet on Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” before an absolutely rocking version of Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child o’ Mine.” Lead violinist Ivana Chetkovic displayed fireworks on her instrument as she stepped to the fore, before literal fireworks erupted from the floor.

The orchestra then successfully tackled another iconic guitar solo with Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’, one of the highlights of the evening.

Fox returned for the Cranberries’ “Zombie” before closing their first set with a crushing rendition of System of a Down’s “Toxicity,” perfectly capturing the song’s violence and vitality.


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My Chemical Romance’s “Welcome to the Black Parade” opened the second set, followed by “Back in Black” and No Doubt’s “Don’t Speak” featuring Fox. Evanescence’s “Bring Me To Life” already felt operatic before the Rock Orchestra treatment, and it soars even higher in this version.

“Next is the song that killed hair metal,” Murphy quipped before the band launched into Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

The Motörhead classic ‘Ace of Spades’ was next. The English rockers played Stanley in 1983 and they certainly didn’t sound like Monday night’s rendition.

System of a Down’s second track, “Chop Suey,” sounded great—who knew the Armenian-American heavy metal band’s music would translate so well to this format?

Again, the band showed no fear, taking on Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing in the Name” and Tom Morello’s ethereal guitar work, matching its earth-shattering intensity and of course going through the classic conclusion of “F—- you, I won Don’t do what you tell me!’

Fittingly, Rock Orchestra finished with a lively ‘Enter Sandman’. The most famous collaboration between metal and orchestra will probably be Metallica’s album “S&M”, recorded in 1999 with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, which sold more than 2 million copies in the United States.

Mike Palm is a digital producer for the Tribune-Review. Mike can be reached at 412-380-5674 or [email protected].

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