Brody Dolyniuk strode onstage at Reynolds Hall in the Smith Center for the Performing Arts on Friday night and stopped, gazing up and around the packed music hall.
If he didn’t say “wow,” his halted gait fairly shouted that reaction. A long career of playing for a couple hundred devotees at Las Vegas taverns and hotel-casinos had led to that moment, and the silver-suited Dolyniuk was up for it.
Long familiar to local rock fans as the frontman of Yellow Brick Road, Dolyniuk amassed 30 of the city’s top musicians (including the four still-active members of YBR) for "The Symphonic Rock Show" at the Smith Center.
Yellow Brick Road embraced the best of such rock greats as the Who, Journey, Led Zeppelin, Queen, Electric Light Orchestra, Supertramp, Aerosmith, Rush, AC/DC and Van Halen. In 1997, the band opened with bar gigs at such taverns as Crown & Anchor and Screwballs. They built enough of a following to play Stardust, Maxim, Main Street Station and Monte Carlo. Soon, Station Casinos rolled the bones and began booking YBR into Sunset Station and Boulder Station.
Word quickly spread around town that you could hear a Las Vegas band perform such classic rock songs as “Tom Sawyer” and “Stairway to Heaven” with great proficiency and energy. It helped that the four-man band clearly relished the material.
Dolyniuk often says YBR’s set lists were comprised of the songs played on cassettes in the car stereo of his old Monte Carlo when he was a kid growing up in Orange County. Anyone who heard Zeppelin’s “Houses of the Holy” over such a sound system found happy nostalgia in YBR’s shows. Dolyniuk could have continued his run as the singer for YBR indefinitely, enjoying a three-show-a-week schedule even in a soft economic climate.
Many fans who helped fill the 2,050-seat hall Friday were startled to learn that he left his post as vocalist in June of last year (those fans quickly learned that the man stepping in for Dolyniuk, Kelly Christian, is terrific). Dolyniuk has kept busy by fronting the rock-orchestra shows of Windborne Music of Virginia Beach and tributes to Queen and the Who.
Since leaving YBR (he remains the band’s manager), Dolyniuk also has performed a pair of "Symphonic Rock" shows at Henderson Pavilion.
So the infusion of classical instrumentation is not new for Dolyniuk, who created a mini-empire without ever being taught to read music. Not a problem. His contacts in Vegas include master trumpet player and bandleader Lon Bronson, the music director of Friday’s show who wore black tails over a Yellow Brick Road souvenir T-shirt. The string section was assembled by Nina DiGregorio, frontwoman of Bella Electric Strings, who performs with Bronson’s All-Star Band and is highly regarded as a classical player who also dives happily into classic rock.
With that backing ensemble, the show was nearly guaranteed to be musically satisfying. It was, an ideal way to loosen the rebar at 6-month-old Reynolds Hall. The sound balance was far superior to the most recent performance at Henderson Pavilion, when David St. John’s thunderous bass about wiped out the orchestra. But the string section powered through “Kashmir,” the none-too-simple Led Zeppelin classic. The horns cut through the mix crisply in another adventurous selection, the Beatles’ “I Am the Walrus,” sung by St. John.
Christian unleashed one of the night’s highlights, Journey’s “Separate Ways,” reminding the crowd that the current version of YBR (which plays alternately at South Point and Texas Station) has not flagged after Dolyniuk’s departure, with Christian backed by familiar figures St. John on bass; Mark Cole on guitar; multifaceted musician Jonathan Gilcrest on flute, keys, violin and guitar (among his many instruments); and James Sloan on drums.
A few surprises were trotted out, too, chiefly the stilted professor character who shouted the spoken-word script from Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2” and the youth choir from Coronado High singing on that song.
Dolyniuk had promised extensive video displays and pyrotechnics and followed through with dazzling LED clips of landscapes, skyscapes and a towering stairway during “Stairway to Heaven.” Audience and band shots were plentiful, too. Fire bursts leaped from behind the stage during several songs, principally “Live and Let Die.”
There also was an indication of Dolyniuk’s sense of humor when he led “Tom Sawyer” with a familiar clip of the kids from “South Park” playing a version of the song that Cartman mistook for “Huckleberry Finn” (Rush has used the same clip to open its shows on recent tours). Dolyniuk also sampled his impressionist chops -- just before leaving Vegas, he built a very good comedy/rock impression show titled “Brody’s World” that never found a suitable showroom -- by dancing and singing as Mick Jagger during the horn-driven “Brown Sugar,” swapping lines with backing singer Mary Kryah.
One quibble: “Jump” is not the greatest Van Halen song in Dolyniuk’s arsenal, not by a long shot, but he chose that number to close the show. It did make sense, in spirit, as he rushed up the aisles high-fiving fans and about laughing out the lyrics.
It was a triumphant moment, and a deserved one. Metaphorically, the man who years ago founded Yellow Brick Road was not in Kansas anymore, but he looked right at home.