LIVE: Elvis Birthday Bash @ the Hangar on the Hudson, 1/5/19
Review and photographs by Amy Modesti
Happy 84th birthday, Elvis Presley! Although the King of Rock and Roll passed away long ago, his musical legacy lives on through his legions of fans, musicians and impersonators who are dedicated to performing his music for generations to come. last Saturday, Johnny Rabb’s Big Band hosted their annual birthday bash at the Hangar on the Hudson to a full house of Elvis fans.
Before arriving at The Hangar, I attended Ralph Spillenger’s birthday bash, Farewell to the Bayou, for a while to support my friend who was closing his café after more than 24 years in business. And although I arrived at The Hangar more than 20 minutes late, I was happy to be able to attend since I missed last year’s Elvis celebration due to the extreme cold winter weather.
This year it was one huge birthday party that was certainly fit for the King of Rock and Roll. Black and red streamers hung along the doorway of The Hangar leading into the dance hall that was packed full of Elvis fans and swing dancers. The dining tables were decorated with musical notes and rock and roll birthday balloons (some balloons were actual musical notes), and all of the decorations centered along the back wall of The Hangar were dedicated to Presley, ranging from an Elvis movie on a TV screen to an Elvis lunchbox to an Elvis Presley doll to Elvis Birthday bags to a blanket draped along the wall for decoration, and an Elvis birthday cake with peanut butter frosting and banana flavoring made by Debbie’s Kitchen. Even the stage area was decorated with Elvis lettering and birthday balloons, all designed and setup by balloon artist, Jen Jenny (Balloon Gal Jenny).
Throughout their two performance sets, Johnny Rabb’s Big Band – featuring Michael Kelley (piano/vocals), Pete Vumbaco (drums/vocals), Graham Tichy (guitar/vocals), John Tichy (guitar/vocals), Johnny Rabb (acoustic guitar/vocals), Don Young (bass/vocals), Josh Greenberg (baritone saxophone/vocals) and guest vocalist Tommy Love (for “Suspicious Minds”) – did not disappoint their fans, putting on a fun, entertaining, and highly danceable tribute to Elvis Presley. If there is one person in Greater Nippertown who could sound like Presley and honor his music as much as he does with his band, it is Johnny Rabb. Rabb and the entire band had me and their fans, dancing and singing along to the songs all evening.
The band made the King of Rock and Roll’s songs their own, sometimes even throwing hints of the movies that some of these songs were included in or mentioning the writers who contributed Presley’s top songs. Did you know that Presley’s movie “Girls, Girls, Girls” featured the hit song, “Return to Sender” (great harmonies and solos from the entire band)? Or that the movie “Loving You” featured the song, “Gotta Loving Living to Do”? Or that in “Blue Hawaii” featured the hit, “Beach Boy Blues”?
Throughout his music and film career, Presley performed many songs that became popular during the rock and roll era. Johnny Rabb’s Big Band performed a huge amount of Presley’s hits from his movies and records, including “Too Much,” “Teddy Bear,” “Treat Me Nice,” “Promised Land” (performed and sung solo by Kelley, who was electrifying with his piano playing), “The Latest Flame,” “Little Sister,” “I Beg of You” and “Don’t Be Cruel” (I enjoyed how “I Beg of You” and “Don’t Be Cruel” were played within their medley in the first set), among other tunes. After ending their set, the band even sang “Happy Birthday” to Presley before everybody was treated to a slice of delicious birthday cake from Debbie’s Kitchen.
The band’s second homage to Presley remained strong, featuring such hit songs as “Bossa Nova Baby,” “Viva Las Vegas” (some dancers even formed a conga line to the tune), “Put the Blame on Me,” “(You’re So Square) Baby, I Don’t Care” (sung by Graham), “Money Honey” (featuring John Tichy on vocals), “(Now and Then There’s ) A Fool Such as I,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” a reprise of “A Big Hunk o’ Love,” “Mystery Train” (with train whistling coming from Greenberg), “The Devil in Disguise,” “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You,” “Paralyzed” and “Ready Teddy,” featuring amazing interplay between Kelly’s piano soloing to Graham’s guitar solo and Greenberg’s saxophone solo.
“Suspicious Minds” (featuring Tommy Love, who was called up on stage during the song to sing and share backup vocals with Graham and company) and “Heartbreak Hotel” were the final two songs that concluded the truly spectacular, fun and entertaining Elvis Birthday Bash. The band and its guests did an outstanding job in paying homage and showing their love of Presley through a tribute of his music that came alive once again. Happy 83rd Birthday, Elvis Presley!