Music reviews: 'Exodus' and Papa Roach 

‘Exodus’ Arkansas Symphony Orchestra Robinson Center April 10 Let my people go … please! Considering the many gawking fans that David Itkin has accumulated in his 12 seasons as ASO maestro, especially with his previous Pulitzer-nominated composition “Jonah” in 2000, Itkin’s latest opus, which he premiered last weekend, effortlessly drew in the crowds from all across the state. In collaboration with celebrity William Shatner as narrator and Paul Rowe as lead baritone, “Exodus” tells the familiar Biblical tale of Moses leading his people out of Egypt with, as Itkin explained in a brief introduction, a modern spin that focused more on the nature of freedom than the religious slant typically seen in traditional retellings. Or so he says. Itkin’s claim on originality is a bit overstated given that the work was primarily historical and often told in loose paraphrase, if not verbatim, from the Torah. Shatner’s articulate voice narration — which felt like a flashy gimmick to boost ticket sales — followed the birth of Moses through his exile into Midian in part one, the account of the 10 plagues brought on Egypt in the second act, and finally the seder celebration of their deliverance from Egyptian bondage. In the finale, Shatner even takes on a priestly persona to deliver a benediction on the crowd. Itkin manages to pull off some cute instrumental quirks, however, such as a percussionist using chopsticks on a woodblock to represent the plague of gnats, a very jumpy melody for the plague of frogs, and a well-crafted crescendo accompanied by a drum cadence for the plague of hail. And, as a coaxed cue for the chills down audience members’ spines, the clashing of an anvil and the swelling of strings was amplified by Shatner’s booming declaration of the finale of the death of the first born. At its best, “Exodus” is a recap of Itkin’s early choral work, a medium that still serves as his greatest strength as a composer, even with his many years of amassed experience with an orchestra. Also, the forceful vocals of Paul Rowe were used sparingly and accurately, and gave the piece a greater authenticity. Likewise, in collaboration with university choirs from all across the state and the Arkansas Chamber Singers, Itkin led them through some truly powerful harmonies that recalled, in the same way Disney’s “Prince of Egypt” did uncharacteristically well, an ancient quality of the most readily available instrument to storytellers of any dynasty — modern or antique. -- By Dustin Allen Papa Roach with No Warning and Trust Company Clear Channel Metroplex April 5 Papa’s still got it The cry for a suitable Central Arkansas indoor concert venue to serve the 500-to-1,500-fan turnout seems to have been answered: the Clear Channel Metroplex is stepping up to host bands that would draw crowds too large for the clubs, too small for Alltel Arena or the amphitheater and too rowdy for Robinson Center Music Hall. And while we might have thought its Colonel Glenn/I-430 location was too remote to draw enough fans, a large, excited crowd greeted modern rockers Papa Roach and two bands trying to climb up to the Papa Roach popularity level on a stormy Tuesday night. It was so loud, we didn’t notice one thunderclap outside until the show was over. Papa Roach at least proved it still deserves more attention than simply for its 2000 hit “Last Resort.” From start to finish, every Papa Roach song was a quality power rap-rocker, and its show intensified to a rousing regular-set-finishing “Last Resort.” Frontman Jacoby Shaddix commanded the entire stage from the band’s first note, even demanding halfway through the set that the spotlight operator quit shining the disconcerting beam at his face, and drummer Dave Bruckner — he of the prominent sideburns and prominent torso — pounded out a steady beat. Besides the earlier hits “Last Resort,” as the regular set closer, and “Broken Home,” the group got a rousing response from newer songs “Scars” and “Getting Away With Murder,” from the same-titled CD. “Take Me,” which officially hit the airwaves that day, was also welcomed. After keeping the crowd in a frenzy for over an hour, Papa Roach returned a few minutes later re-energized to play “Between Angels and Insects.” Trust Company, out of Alabama and sandwiched between the young opener No Warning and the headliner, disappointed. Kevin Palmer’s singing wasn’t up to Shaddix’s level, nor could he match the power of energetic youth Ben Cook, who fronted Toronto-based No Warning. At least he refrained from adding the “f” word to every sentence, unlike his show counterparts. Trust Company’s guitar work was fine, but the drumming also lacked oomph, leaving us wondering if the band didn’t get a bad sound mix. Trust Company’s 35-minute set featured earlier hits “Downfall” and the newest hit “Closer.” But it was no surprise that their best-sounding work came on a rocking, screaming twist of Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” — just the chorus a couple of times around the familiar lead, and dropped a full note to benefit either the singing or the guitars, we’re not sure. No Warning’s high-energy performance, powered by Cook and drummer Jesse Labovitz, was the perfect show opener as the Canadians featured a few songs from their debut release “Suffer, Survive.” Frankly, these guys looked about 16, even more so when they were signing autographs, selling CDs and meeting fans. We left thinking we just might hear much more from No Warning, whose music showed Linkin Park influences at times. — By Jim Harris, with additional reporting by Gina Hicks

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