Delving deep into the music of Peter Gabriel
By J. Chambless
The Rock Orchestra's lineup for their Peter Gabriel tribute show, coming to the Flash.
By John Chambless
For Joe Trainor, getting to step into the music of artists he admires is the payoff for all the hours of work he does with the Rock Orchestra, which he helms with co-founder Matt Urban. The Delaware-based collective has staged musical tributes to artists as varied as Bruce Springsteen and Pink Floyd. On Aug. 3 at the Kennett Flash, he will lead the band through an evening of music by Peter Gabriel, whose chameleon-like career since going solo from Genesis in 1976 has earned him an international following.
Trainor, working with the tribute group In The Light, has presented tributes to Led Zeppelin, Queen, The Who, Genesis and The Eagles. He has also mounted full performances of of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, songs by Billy Joel, “Jesus Christ Superstar” and an '80s review.
In late July, The Rock Orchestra presented six nights of concerts in Wilmington where they performed every Beatles song – all 215 of them. Not resting for too long, Trainor and TRO will encore their most recent stage show at the Flash with a Peter Gabriel tribute. Trainor spoke recently about his work with the band, and what inspires him to delve so deeply into the music of artists he loves.
Q.: Briefly outline your musical progression -- I assume there were original bands along the way. What led to the decision for form the Rock Orchestra for these tribute shows?
A.: I've been in an original band over 10 years (The Joe Trainor Trio) which ran concurrently with a tribute group Matt Urban and I were in called In The Light. After six years with In The Light, Matt and I decided we wanted to work more often and with more people, so TRO was born. So now we get to do shows with our friends from In The Light, but also do show with other musicians, some we've never worked with.
Are you personally a fan of each of the artists you perform?
So far, yes. Matt and I have very similar musical tastes, so the shows we're doing right now fall into our bucket list. They're artists we've always wanted to attempt. Down the road, we may do artists that we know people want to hear, but aren't high on our own lists. And we'll ultimately do those shows, too.
Do you have to rediscover songs by these artists that you might not be as familiar with? You can't be up to date on everything you perform initially -- can you?
I think all of the songs we've worked on are very familiar to me, personally. But few of the people in these shows have actively played these songs live, so we all need to learn them from scratch, for the most part.
How does the band go about finding music for some of these songs? Is there sheet music available? Or do you guys just do it by ear?
It depends on the band. Some artists have a wealth of sheet music or source material available, while some (like Gabriel) do not publish portfolios of their work. Nearly everything we're playing had to be figured out by the band individually by ear.
Did the Gabriel tribute grow out of your association with Keep it Dark, the Genesis tribute band that Matt Urban is involved with?
Matt and I are both huge Genesis fans, which is why we did the Keep It Dark show (an offshoot of In The Light). Likewise, we're both huge Gabriel fans, so we knew tackling Gabriel at some point was important to both of us. Either one of them (Genesis or Gabriel) could have happened first.
You've made a decision to not approximate the "look" of the artists you present -- just the music. I assume that's a monetary decision, but also, do you feel that obsessing about outfits detracts from the music?
It's less a budgetary consideration and more of about being honest with ourselves. TRO covers a LOT of artists, and I don't look like ANY of their lead singers. I think it would pull people out of the show if I was prancing around up there looking like Springsteen or Gabriel. They just want to enjoy the music, and that's what we're giving them. A celebration of what we all love with no pretense. That being said, I know a handful of tribute artists personally who go the route of dressing like the artists, and it works for them. I just know it wouldn't work for me.
For those who might not have seen you, the music is incredibly accurate. These are not "interpretations," they are recreations of the original songs. How much of a challenge is it to nail down some things, like some possibly vintage synthesizer sounds, in some of this material?
It's all about finding the right people for the job. If I know I need a keyboardist that can recreate sounds, I currently know a couple that have a good ear for that (in addition to being proficient). If I need someone who can wail on a Hammond organ, I know those people. Guitarists can be genre specific, so you want to find people who can step into a style easily based on their own natural style.
For the Gabriel show, what is the span of the solo material you cover? Do you touch on all of his solo albums?
We cover everything Gabriel has produced in his solo career, from his first 1977 album through his latest LP, Up. We also include some tracks from side records like Ovo and use a couple of his interpretations of songs from live albums. His studio work is amazing, but his live interpretations exist for a reason. … it elevates the songs in a live setting, so in some cases we're doing versions you may find on Plays Live or Secret World Live because they're stronger versions.
Have you seen Gabriel in concert? Which tours?
Sadly, I've only seen Gabriel three times. Twice on the "So" tour in 86/87 and once on the “Secret World” tour (supporting Us) in 1993. The rest is on Blu-Ray...
There is obviously a difference in his voice from the start of his career to now -- It's gotten deeper and raspier. How do you convey that change in the more recent solo material?
This is a tricky point for me, because I don't know how I feel about myself as a singer. I've covered Plant, and Mercury and Springsteen and Gabriel, as a singer in past tributes, and I don't sound like any of them. But I feel my voice is neutral enough to convey the material. For me, I see myself less as being someone who can recreate a singer's voice, but more of an MC of a grand sing-along. I'm just the guy helping the audience remember the lyrics.
What songs do you perform that will surprise longtime Gabriel fans?
I don't want to give anything away, but I will say that we do at least two songs from every studio album, and we also do some lesser-known tracks that fans will get a kick out of. It's a nice mix of hits and fan favorites, without getting too deep.
Have you gotten feedback from Springsteen's camp, or anyone else, about the shows you do? Are they impressed?
I'm unaware if any artist we've covered knows we exist. And while it would be nice if they did and were pleased, the important thing is walking away from a show knowing we gave the audience what they came to see. That's the reward.
If you could meet Gabriel and ask him or tell him anything, what would you say?
Twenty-five years ago, I would have cried and asked him to go back to Genesis. Today, I would just thank him for giving a lifetime of amazing music that has inspired me in all the great ways music should. I'd also tell him to get back to work and get that next record out. Fifteen years, man? Really?
The Rock Orchestra presents an Evening of Peter Gabriel at the Kennett Flash on Aug. 3 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 and $25. Visit www.kennettflash.org for tickets or more information.
To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email firstname.lastname@example.org.