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Rare Earth’s Peter Rivera and company light up the Fox with a symphony of hits

Sept. 23, 2022 Updated Fri., Sept. 23, 2022 at 10:42 p.m.

Peter Rivera and his R&B Celebrate Symphony perform the hits of Rare Earth on Friday at the Fox Theater in downtown Spokane.  (Colin Mulvany/The Spokesman-Review)
Peter Rivera and his R&B Celebrate Symphony perform the hits of Rare Earth on Friday at the Fox Theater in downtown Spokane. (Colin Mulvany/The Spokesman-Review)

Rare Earth rocker Peter Rivera brought an infectious enthusiasm and a unique twist to classic hits performed at the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox Friday night.

Local group Vika and the Velvets warmed up the crowd there to see Peter Rivera’s R&B Celebrate Symphony, opening with Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good” and Pickwick’s “Hacienda Motel” before moving into a few originals, each somehow better than the last. The set culminated in a song I’ll likely be listening to for the next week on repeat, “70s Haze.”

Each of the band members were excellent in their own right, blending together with an easy air that made me want to keep listening all night. But the lead vocalist, Olivia Vika, has the kind of voice that’ll make you dive head first into a whole new genre of music and take on a new layer of personality.

After a brief pause for refreshments and a chance to reset, Detroit native and Wadermere homeowner Rivera and the band finally made their way to the stage to do what they love most: to “play for you.” Backed by a 40-piece orchestra, featuring the Whitworth String Orchestra and Gonzaga Alumni Horn Section

, Rivera met a joyful, rowdy crowd enjoying a lovely night of old favorites at the Northwest Passages event.

“It’s not gonna be like it was in the ’70s,” Rivera, 78, said in an introductory film projected above the stage. “But we have to believe that we still have something inside us that people want to see.”

And if the audience’s reaction to “Fade” was anything to go by, Rivera and the band do.

Dave Fague, the director of jazz studies and the Bulldog Band at Gonzaga, assembled the horn section and transcribed the horn and string parts for the Whitworth Orchestra, while Brent Edstrom,, professor of music at Whitworth University, arranged “Born to Wander” and “I Really Love You.”

At the end of Rivera’s take on Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say,” I heard a voice in the crowd clearly say, “Now, that’s the best version I’ve ever heard.”

Despite a few rowdy VIPs, the night was superlative. From the backup singers and musicians to the audience members, you’d have been hard-pressed to spot anyone having a bad time.

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