Classic Albums Live offers astounding imitation


Published: Friday, June 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, June 1, 2007 at 12:01 a.m.

When I was a post-graduate rugrat of 9 or so, my mom packed my brother and I up in the car and zoomed us off to north Georgia, where we visited a friend who we knew as Uncle Hank.

Facts

Classic Albums Live: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

  • What: Note-for-note live performance of the album, as well as other Beatles songs, featuring special guests The Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra.

  • When: 8:30 p.m. June 16

  • Where: Hard Rock Live, Universal Studios CityWalk, Orlando.

  • Tickets: $45 reserved seats; Ticketmaster.

  • Web site: www.classicalbumslive.com

  • Uncle Hank was a psychology professor and the kind of vintage-model cool cat who lived in a house with a pack of rusting Corvairs in the yard.

    By his stereo was an equally intriguing collection of albums, including one with an incandescent fold-out sleeve with four mod dudes in Day-Glo uniforms who stared back at you with indescribably beguiling smiles.

    Inside the cardboard jacket, the music was eclectic, sweeping and intriguing. It was a psychedelic tour de force, a sonic kaleidoscope of imagery, a take on life through rose (and purple/green) colored glasses.

    It was "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."

    And whether they realized it or not, that was the kind of pop-cultural baggage some Canadian musicians played to when they took the stage last summer at the Hard Rock Live in Orlando.

    As they will do so again on June 16, the group assembled under the title Classic Albums Live performed the entire "Sgt. Pepper's" album - cut for cut, note for note and psychedelic dollop for dollop.

    The concept of Classic Albums Live is that the group reproduces the exact sound of an entire album (and not necessarily the look of a band, as with a "tribute band") live on stage.

    In the case of "Sgt. Pepper's," The Beatles famously never performed the album live at all. And that inevitably fed some of its theoretical (if not entirely accurate) mystique: A breathtaking studio statement so complex and unique that even The Beatles never played it live!

    "Sgt. Pepper," I have to say, isn't my all-time favorite album. And there are Beatles albums I'm drawn to more. But it's an almost unequaled phonographic achievement; a measure of the heights a "pop" album can reach, and the one Rolling Stone magazine labeled as the greatest album of all time.

    I was entranced enough by it that I soon "knew" every note - whether bass thump, bugle call or guitar sting - so well that I could "play" it in my head at will. And I had memorized the lyrics of every song (well, every song except the even further far-out "Within You Without You") by the time I was 10 years old.

    In other words, I knew this album. And I have to say, with very little caveat, that some pretty good Canadian players do too.

    A core group of six musicians - two singer/guitarists, a drummer, bassist, keyboardist and percussionist/singer - pulled it off amazingly well (with, that is, a little help from their friends, including a sitar player on "Within You," and members of the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra who joined in on key moments).

    How good were they? So good that several instances are nearly as emblazoned on my mind as the ones from the original album were.

    That clanging guitar opening of "Getting Better"? The harp intro of "She's Leaving Home"? The reed instruments of "When I'm Sixty-Four"? They nailed them - just as they did the psychedelic pulsing of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," the swirling calliope of "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" and the animal sounds - done by the singers themselves - on "Good Morning Good Morning."

    Off moments, like the not-quite-right opening of "Lovely Rita," were few and far between.

    And those were more than offset by such crystalline moments as when singer Rob Phillips - a deadringer for George Harrison, as it turned out - was joined by sitarist Yoshi Yamano for "Within You."

    Then there was the cacophonous crescendo of "A Day in the Life" - the climactic ending of the album itself and a sublimely thrilling moment in concert.

    How good was the whole thing? Let's just say that if I had bet against them pulling it off, I would have lost.

    Accordingly (and after also hearing them play The Beatles' "White Album" similarly well, which is to say incredibly realistic), I would caution against anyone - however skeptical the concept may sound - doing the same.

    Bill Dean can be reached at 374-5039 or bill.dean@gvillesun.com

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