Here's to the Arts Cafe Concert
August 27, 2005

Review by Linda Oatman High

It was all about the music in Maplewood, New Jersey, when the backyard of Here’s 2 The Arts Café was transformed into a summer’s night delight for music lovers. Packed to capacity with an all-ages crowd, the August 27 concert opened with a performance by Jersey’s Keith Beck. With an eclectic mix of songs, including the Mary Tyler Moore theme tune, Beck energetically kicked off the early-evening show below darkening skies as tabletop candles flickered and patrons filled the venue’s lawn chairs. Beck’s newest album is Zigman.

Springfield singer-songwriter Ken Shane followed Beck, delivering a set of riveting songs that began with the original “Invisible,” from Ken’s debut CD, South Ridgeway Avenue. Accompanied by percussionist Jerry Cordasco of Stanky Brown fame, Shane’s next offering was “West,“ a poetic emotionally-driven selection from his upcoming album of the same title. With a set list that included the poignant “South Ridgeway Avenue,“ based upon Shane’s childhood in Atlantic City, and “Chesapeake,” Ken transported listeners to places far away. His one cover tune, “Galveston,” dedicated to the 1,800-plus soldiers who have died in Iraq, was a goosebump-inducing tune that silenced the crowd to reflective respect. Rounding out the set with “Certain Kind of Feeling,” and “Common Man,” Ken went on to end with performance with a calming delivery of “Peace Like a River,” transfixing the audience with the warm-toned voice that Dirty Linen magazine compared to Richard Shindell’s.

Headlining the evening’s entertainment was the stunning and innovative Alexander Kariotis and the Rock and Roll Orchestra. Tenor Alex Kariotis astounded the audience with a unique mix of rock and opera, backed up by his 9-piece band: Jerry Cordasco on perfect percussion, Clyde Bullard with cool bass lines, great guitarists Peter Seckel and Keith Beck, electrifying electric violin by Diane Montalbine, kickin’ keyboard by musical director Mitch Samu, and beautiful backup vocals by Aimee Willis, Caitie Galardi, and Michael Barretti. Backed not only by his band, Kariotis is also backed by a screen behind the stage, upon which is projected images, words, and translations of opera lyrics. Despite a few technical problems with lighting, the Rock and Roll Orchestra lit up the night with amazing entertainment that included the bittersweet “Lennon in Heaven,” and a cover of “The Flame,” a Cheap Trick song dedicated to Alex’s late brother. Candles flickered on the screen, and two candles placed on the stage were tributes to Alex’s brother, a musician with the Chicago band, as well as to bassist Bullard’s mother, who’d passed away only a week before the performance. Moving the audience to tears and lighters held to the sky, the Cheap Trick cover was a unique addition to a set list that also included “Tosca.”

Exposed to rock and roll at a young age, Alex Kariotis was only 9 when he lost both eyebrows setting off homemade pyrotechnics for his brother’s band Gambler, a Chicago rock group. Quickly forming his own band, the young Alexander and The Nodes opened frequently at big brother’s gigs.

Winning scholarships to the Mannes Conservatory of Music and UCLA, Alex kept his hand in pop music, recording at Warner Brothers with his brother and opening for rock bands. Moving to Europe to study with Pavarotti’s teacher as well as other famed opera stars, Alex went on to perform in opera all over Europe and America. Returning to the States to yet another full scholarship and earning his master's in voice, Kariotis earned rave reviews for his performances in Chicago and Canada. In the midst of all this, Alex was quietly working on developing a brand-new style of Kariotis music that cleverly combined his two loves: rock and opera.

Alexander Kariotis and the Rock and Roll Orchestra is a newly-formed performance, a surprising fact that audience members would never guess. The band blends flawlessly, and the delivery is tight. The ten-member group has chemistry, and Alexander Kariotis has charisma that connects him to the crowd. With a stage presence that commands, and a confidence stemming from years from study and experience, the singer and his musicians are sure to go far.

The August 27 show closed with impromptu songs indoors the café by Ken Shane and Here’s 2 The Arts co-owners Art and Willie. Attendees were reluctant to leave, and hoping for another show soon that combines the multi-faceted talents of Keith Beck, Ken Shane, and Alexander Kariotis and the Rock and Roll Orchestra. Luckily, the rain held off for the evening, and the music lit up the night.


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