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Review | Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra Plays Rolling Stones

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The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra rocked The Riverside Theater Saturday with a tribute to The Rolling Stones. This rock-symphony-homage is an annual tradition for the MSO, but it was my first attendance. 

Symphonic arrangements of great rock music? I’m in.

I didn’t know what to expect. Should I wear my ball gown or my leather pants? 

(I suppose I should have consulted the man in the floor-length fur. The red and black zebra-striped lapel of his suit said it all.)

Will I spend the night testing my Stones knowledge, playing “guess that song” to stripped down skeletons of these rock ‘n’ roll classics? Will the conductor’s masterful re-arrangements stretch the edges of musical innovation, replacing voice with violin and bass with bassoon?

My anticipation was high, but my imagination eclipsed reality, as imaginations tend to do. In my imagination, the Orchestra was the centerpiece of this show. In reality, the centerpiece was Windborne, a Rolling Stones cover band and a singer with a soul patch.

As the singer (whose only resemblance to Mr. Mick was the scarf around his neck) paraded around the stage I became more consumed with his tacky Vegas gimmicks than the full orchestra behind him. The band made the MSO seem like extra baggage, a supplement to the second-rate cover band (which they are not).

Now, when the orchestra did break through the electric noise, they were fantastic. The hands-down highlight of the evening was “Paint It Black.” That, and ballads such as “Angie” and “Wild Horses” lent themselves to orchestral-intermissions. The amps turned down and the stings amped up, revealed the exquisite potential of these arrangements. 

I was there for the quality and creativity. What I thought would be a chance for the MSO to show off their musical talents in a modern fashion, really turned out to be a frat party for adults to hire a babysitter, get a little too (uncomfortably) reckless and relive their glory years. 

I can only hope that next year there's a little more of what makes MSO great.

"Under My Thumb," one of the more orchestra-friendly songs in the set-list