Based in Nyack, N.Y., the band Live and Unplugged will perform its first New Jersey show, June 3 at Roy’s Hall in Blairstown. The show will include Nirvana’s 1994 MTV Unplugged in New York album in its entirety, as well as songs, performed in “unplugged” style, by Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Stone Temple Pilots, Pearl Jam and others.
The band formed in the summer of 2021. “I was obsessed with Nirvana growing up,” says singer-guitarist Dylan Kelehan, a former member of the Pink Floyd cover band The Machine. Kelehan forms Live and Unplugged with singer-bassist Dan Rapapport, guitarist Ryan Liatsis and drummer Eric Challacombe.
Kelehan says that after touring with The Machine for two years, “I just realized how intense it was, with all the equipment. We had to hire a truck just to get the gear there: amps, lighting trusses, lighting in general, circular projector … I thought it was really cool, but I thought, ‘Man, I’d love to do a lighter show that’s acoustic-based,’ because I had already done the electric thing for two solid years. So I wanted to do something that I thought was tour-able, that no one else was doing, but acoustic. And all those famous ‘MTV Unplugged’s just popped into my head, and I thought that the most popular was Nirvana. And I have a kinship with it. So I thought, ‘Go with that.’ ”
The band can do other “Unplugged” albums in their entirety, too, including Alice in Chains’ 1996 MTV Unplugged. But at a show like the one they are doing at Roy’s Hall, Kelehan said, “The first set is supposed to be a recreation of the Nirvana one, and everybody has a great show and gets a great vibe from it. Then the second set is supposed to be tight musically, but looser conceptually, and we play songs that kind of everybody will love. So if there’s a huge Nirvana fan and they bring their spouse along that doesn’t really necessarily love Nirvana, the second set is going to be for them, because they’ll get ’90s stuff that’s straight down the middle, and ’90s grunge.
“We do, like, (Soul Asylum’s) ‘Runaway Train.’ We do Chris Isaak. Stuff that was really famous in the ’90s, top of the charts kinds of things, but not necessarily heavy grunge. And it’s all acoustic. So it’s very desirable for people, because it sounds great: It doesn’t sound muddy or clouded with all that crazy amplification. It’s sweet.”
Kelehan — who owns the Rock Shop music store in Nyack, N.Y. — formed the band with musicians he knows from the Nyack area. “They’re really into the ’90s, because they’re all my age,” he said.
Calling the band Live and Unplugged allows them to be very flexible. “As soon as you hear Live and Unplugged, you think ‘MTV Live and Unplugged.’ That’s the main thing. And that’s kind of what we play off. Pearl Jam has a famous one, Stone Temple Pilots have a famous one, Nirvana, even Kiss has a famous one. Eric Clapton. So anybody who’s done a ‘Live and Unplugged,’ we can draw from that.
“So, let’s say we do great at Roy’s Hall and they want us back. They’re not going to want us back until next year, and they’re not going to want us to do the same thing. So maybe that one, we’ll lead with the Alice in Chains’ ‘Unplugged.’
“That’s another thing I learned from the Pink Floyd tribute,” he said, explaining that The Machine always offer bookers a variety of different shows, emphasizing different Pink Floyd albums or focusing on the hits. “I learned that if you want longevity, you have to be diverse, because who’s going to want to come see us do the same thing every year.”
MTV debuted the “Unplugged” series in 1989, but started producing the shows less frequently in the late ’90s. Now, it’s not really a series anymore, though MTV does still occasionally air unplugged specials (or produce them for online-only viewing). Over the past few years, they have been rare but high-profile, with shows devoted to BTS, Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga, and Bastille.
Kelehan says Live and Unplugged is, in a sense, a nostalgia band. “I’m not gearing it towards young people,” he said. “I’m gearing it towards people who are my age … I’m 37, so from about 37 to 45.
“It’s a ton of fun. I’ve been working on this stuff for 27 years, since I was 10 years old. So I feel very confident about hitting the right notes and getting the right vibe, which is the most important part of a tribute band.”
Live and Unplugged performs at Roy’s Hall in Blairstown, June 3 at 8 p.m. Visit royshall.org.
For more on the band, visit liveandunplugged.live.
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