I had never seen the Philly Pops before and I don’t know why. They absolutely blew me away. If you haven’t seen the Philly Pops, you really should.
The Philly Pops is the largest standalone orchestra in the United States. Although they play throughout the mid-Atlantic region, the band primarily plays right here in Philadelphia at Verizon Hall, at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. Michael Krajewski, the conductor, and the 65-piece orchestra honored “The King” himself, Elvis Presley, playing four shows and a fantastic tribute Oct. 21-23.
The show was essentially two in one.
The large orchestra did a fantastic job opening up with an overture, and when Dave Bennett was introduced before “Burning Love,” it became clear there was plenty more to see.
Bennett could have been the reincarnation of Elvis; his guitar skills and smooth voice had everyone questioning if he was the King himself.
Wowing the older crowd, Bennett was a multi-instrument marvel. Playing his guitar, piano, drums, clarinet and vocal pipes, Dave Bennett could have overshadowed the orchestra easily. However, the orchestra’s talent, synchronization and impeccable composition put on one of the most incredible performances I’ve ever seen.
Bennett was an on-stage comic.
In between compositions, either himself or Krajewski would transition to the next song with a history of the song, a joke or impromptu banter. Pops and Bennett played through a medley of “That’s All Right” and “Blue Moon of Kentucky” before playing “Promised Land,” a song about leaving Norfolk, Virginia. Pops then welcomed yet another talent: Allison Blackwell.
Blackwell, a Philadelphia native, had an impressive range, being able to transition from gospel to opera. What wowed me most about her voice was how, despite being a female singing songs made famous by one of the most recognizable male voices in the entire world, she was able to put her own twist on the music without making it feel unrecognizable — it was stellar.
It’s hard to pick songs in the first act to highlight. Each song was unique in its own way with the orchestral twist with two phenomenal vocalists. The first act did end with an all-star rendition of the blues song “Trouble.”
After the intermission, Pops and Bennett opened with “Surrender Now or Never,” a composition of the two popular songs. “C.C. Rider,” a Ma Rainey song that Elvis had covered in the ’70s came next, leading into “Suspicious Minds,” a song that had the audience pining for more. Bennett and Blackwell sang together wondrously, but guitarist David Cullen’s riffs and the David Nelson’s tympani stuck with me most.
The best part of the night came after Krajewski shared Elvis’ relation to Jerry Lee Lewis — a moment that will never be forgotten in music history. The piece was a medley of “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “Hound Dog” and “Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On.”
The medley was phenomenal, but this was when Dave Bennett truly stole the show. The musician played the piano in as many ways possible in perfect harmony with the orchestra. Between playing with his foot, playing with his butt and playing nearly upside down, Bennett had the crowd on their feet, screaming.
A medley of “Fools Rush In” and “Can’t Help Falling in Love” ended the one-of-a-kind night before the orchestra decided to play one more song with Bennett and Blackwell singing to their “Johnny B. Goode,” a song covered by Elvis in 1969.
The crowd was an older crowd who, without a doubt, had seen Elvis play live before. Everyone was happy to relive the glory days; I didn’t see a single fan leave without a big smile on their face.
I never got to see Elvis play live, but if the Philly Pops were even half as good as Elvis Presley, it’s no wonder why he is the King. To the fantastic musicians of the Philly Pops: thank you, thank you very much.