Review: Alternative Symphony Performing Dr. Dre’s 2001 in Toronto

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Alternative Symphony at The Opera House in Toronto

… And we’re back! We celebrated the new year by counting down our top ten concerts of 2019, and are kicking off 2020 by celebrating the 20th anniversary of an all-time classic album. Released in November of 1999, Dr. Dre’s sophomore solo album, 2001, is a timeless masterpiece that elevated Hip-Hop culture to a new stratosphere. While N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton (1988) and Dre’s solo debut The Chronic (1992) are masterpieces in their own right, 2001 had all of Dr. Dre’s biggest hits that would last for decades to come. The album would cement Dr. Dre as one of the greatest producers of all-time, while also elevating the status of Snoop Dogg and Nate Dogg into Hip-Hop icons (if they weren’t already there), prominently featuring a young Eminem at the beginning of his prime, and showcasing excellent penmanship through what would be revealed years later as the ghostwriting of Jay-Z and Royce Da 5’9″, among others.

While Dr. Dre himself never tours anymore and rarely ever performs live, Toronto would get a special celebration of this classic album with Alternative Symphony. Having made waves in Australia and New Zealand with their series of Dr. Dre tribute concerts, Alternative Symphony has brought their concept to Canada, recruiting professional musicians in each city they perform in to form a symphony orchestra to perform these Hip-Hop classics. Being a master producer and filling this album with incredible instrumentation, it would be a unique experience seeing Dr. Dre’s work get performed with live strings, brass, and percussion. While you’d expect an orchestral performance like this to have assigned seating, the performance of a classic Hip-Hop album needs a classic venue that gives fans the space to move, and so this show would take place at The Opera House, an intimate, historical concert venue with an open dance floor.

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The sold-out venue would take some time to fill up, and the show would understandably run a little late getting started, with at least 15 musicians on stage needing their equipment sounding right. Once it got started though, it became an incredible party scene. Rather than perform the entire 2001 album in track listing order, as advertised, Alternative Symphony kept the fans guessing, creating new excitement every time they played a beat everyone recognized. Starting off with “Forgot About Dre,” they had the crowd bouncing from the beginning, as the violins, trumpets, and guitars brought the beat to life, and the two lead emcees Al St. Louis & Diriki got the crowd involved as they covered Dr. Dre and Eminem’s fast-paced rapping. The mixing was a little off with the microphones not sounding loud enough, but it didn’t matter as the fans all joined in to cover the vocals.

One of the lead emcees, Toronto artist Al St. Louis, took some time to introduce himself and the group of artists collaborating to make this series of concerts happen, many being tied to The DNA Project. After quickly plugging the hashtag #DNADrDre, they got right back into the music, performing a smooth rendition of “The Watcher.” While they performed classic album cuts off of 2001, including the groovy “Let’s Get High” and the mellow “Xxplosive,” they didn’t strictly stick to the one album, branching out to other Dr. Dre-produced classics. Pulling from The Chronic, as well as Snoop Dogg and Warren G’s catalogues, the G-Funk energy was prevalent as they had the crowd grooving to “Nuthin’ But A ‘G’ Thang,” “Gin And Juice,” and “Let Me Ride.” The late Nate Dogg’s spirit was especially felt as they did a cover of “Regulate,” Diriki showcasing his versatility as he’d cover Nate’s vocals throughout the evening.

There would be a brief intermission for the crowd to drink, smoke, and even puke, as one fan did on the floor near one of the lower-level bars. Yuck.

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As the musicians returned to the stage and got themselves set up again, Al St. Louis took some time to share some of his spoken word poetry, spitting a freestyle verse before getting back to the Dr. Dre tribute. The energy cranked right back up as the orchestra opened with another classic, the crowd instantly recognizing the keys from “Still D.R.E.” and grooving to the beat, and Diriki flowing perfectly in-pocket covering Dre’s verses. They would continue to branch out with more hit songs by other artists that Dre produced, the female vocalists Jeana & Michelle shining especially as they performed covers of Mary J. Blige’s “Family Affair” (with the strings really bringing that beat to life) and Eve & Gwen Stefani’s “Let Me Blow Ya Mind.” Al St. Louis & Diriki would return to the stage and have another dope back-and-forth as they covered Dre and 2Pac’s vocals on “California Love.” They’d then both really flex their singing abilities, bringing back the RnB vibes for a cover of Blackstreet’s “No Diggity.”

After the journey through Dr. Dre’s often overlooked RnB classics, the orchestra would bring it back to Hip-Hop, specifically his 2001 album, with the brass ensemble standing out as they performed “What’s The Difference.” They held no punches covering the hardcore lyrics on the track, although the vocal aggression in Eminem’s verse didn’t fully come out in their cover. They would then mellow out, with Jeana & Michelle returning to assist with the Mary J. Blige-featuring closing track on the album, “The Message.” The laid-back feel would be short-lived however, as Alternative Symphony aimed to go out with a bang. They’d get another hyped reaction of excitement as they played the beat to 50 Cent’s “In Da Club,” turning the place into a dance party as all four emcees covered vocals from both 50’s original classic and a ladies remix. They would then close out the show with one last performance, arguably Dr. Dre’s most iconic single, “The Next Episode.”

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The crowd danced and rapped along to the track, going extra hard for the late Nate Dogg’s closing verse, and the orchestra would play the beat out as each musician on stage got to perform a short solo. From the violins, to the guitars, to the saxophone, to the cello, to the trumpets and trombones, keys, percussion, and drums, every musician on stage got to shine during the closing track. It was the hypest way you could end a Dr. Dre tribute show, and while some of the crowd wanted an encore, this would remain the end of the performance.

Overall, this was an incredibly fun way to kick off the new decade. While there are plenty of tracks off of 2001 that were left out (I personally wanted to see “Big Egos” get performed), most fans seemed glad Alternative Symphony branched out and covered the classic songs by other artists with Dr. Dre’s production behind them. Dre’s impact on music and culture expands far beyond his own albums, and it’s only right that the orchestra dove deep into that journey, while still covering the most memorable songs off of 2001. Their selection of songs really showcased the way Dr. Dre’s production is larger than life, with the orchestra really doing these beats justice. With the star power behind all of these hit songs, there’s no way we’d likely get to see the artists themselves perform them live on the same stage together, and so Alternative Symphony proves to be the next best thing, delicately taking these artists’ masterpieces and honouring them with respect.

Shoutouts to The DNA Project for collaborating with Alternative Symphony to bring all of these artists together, Musical Director Kirk Grange, Band Leader Daniel Cowans, and Talent Curator Anthony Lewis.

 

Alternative Symphony will be returning to Toronto in May for a Daft Punk tribute show.

 

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. Jess says:

    I was so happy to see this show get some love in this article. It was a great night out! I agree it was tough to hear at times, but otherwise so much nostalgic fun. I was hoping to catch the names of the other vocalists though, as I didn’t catch the names at the end. I really wish you had given them some love in your review, the other guy on stage was incredible as Dre and Nate Dogg, not to mention he seemed to save Al a bunch with the lyrics. The female vocalists were amazing too and had great energy! Orchestra backed cover concerts should be a permanent thing, hope they come around again

    1. syphersights says:

      Totally agree, I wish I caught all the names too! Would’ve definitely shown them love if I did.

    2. syphersights says:

      Got all the names of the vocalists and updated the article! You can follow them on Instagram @alstlouispoet, @dirikip, @michelle.vjb, and @fiercemama.
      Cheers!

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