With a sound almost too big for their venue, the UConn Rock Ensemble (UCRE) got the crowd grooving in their seats to familiar favorites like “Hooked on a Feeling” by Blue Swede to modern dance tunes like Mark Ronson’s hit, “Uptown Funk.”
The nearly two-hour-long concert included a lot of firsts from the group – including their first international student member and the first time their long-time drummer Mitch Igneri took lead on vocals.
“Rock and roll needs to be heard,” Igneri, a seventh-semester marketing major who has been with the group since his freshman year, said. “I normally just drum but it was last minute and I knew the lyrics to the song that no one else did, so I sang it and everyone liked how it sounded.”
Although it’s the norm, a singing drummer doesn’t seem out of place in a group like UCRE where the atmosphere – even during performance – is fun and supportive. While the entire group was evidently proud of their work, this wasn’t a stiff, classical orchestra – this was the UConn Rock ensemble.
“My favorite part of Rock Ensemble is being able to play the kind of music that everyone wants to play while having fun with friends,” UCRE president, saxophonist and seventh-semester sociology major Chris Sblacio said.
The group’s bond and passion for their performance was as palpable as the pounding beat that vibrated through the chairs, floor and even the audience members – most of whom were smiling in their seats. Even the newest members, who were clearly nervous – blushing and grinning shyly as one after the other took the microphone for their debut vocal performance with UCRE – were hooked on the feeling only a live performance can bring; and within a few songs they had broken out of their shells.
As the concert progressed it became clear that no one in the group was shy anymore. All the nerves had melted away and the group appeared almost as if they were just at another Sunday night rehearsal – laughing and joking with each other on stage.
“I like to groove if that’s okay with you guys,” guitarist, trombonist, vocalist and fifth-semester ecology and evolutionary biology major Kwasi Wrensford said as he took the microphone for the crowd-pleasing “Sunday Morning” by Maroon 5.
The grooving didn’t stop with Maroon 5.
Lead singer Justin Chan got the house involved with “Mr. Jones” and “Smooth,” which featured Swedish-exchange student Andy Lantz on vocals, showcasing the entire group’s ability from the horns to the keys. Every song UCRE played had a lot of feeling, and it was easy to feel the fun they were having and the hours of work they had poured into preparing for this one night.
But the song that really got me moving and singing along – and almost seemed designed for a group as unique as UCRE – the classic karaoke single by Gloria Gaynor, “I Will Survive.” It was a perfect song for UCRE, giving the song a totally different feeling than my blasting boom box and scratchy voice had ever managed.
Despite the long flow of constant music, the crowd was captivated and the time seemed to fly by. Before the ensemble was even ready, the show was forced to come to a close with Kansas’ “Carry On Your Wayward Son” because the group’s allotted time was up.
“We didn’t get to do three of our songs including two of my solos and the drum solo,” Chan, a fifth-semester economics major said. “The union had to kick us out; but we are part of a huge concert on Saturday and we can make up for it there.”
URCE formed at the start of spring 2011 and first performed at a benefit concert for To Write Love on Her Arms. Since that first show, URCE has expanded greatly to include a full horn section in addition to their keyboards, guitarists, bassists, drummers and vocalists.
For more information about the group and their upcoming concerts visit their website.