A GREAT BAND PAYS TRIBUTE TO AN EVEN GREATER BAND
I just picked up an amazing DVD.
If the Rock-n-Roll family tree has it's roots in the Mississippi River Delta and the blues singers who got the whole thing started, one of the tree's thickest supporting branches quickly spread its way to the banks of the River Mersey, in Liverpool. The Beatles took what was started in this country and absorbed it, redefined it, owned it and sent it back over here. One of the American bands that picked up on the Beatles new twist (and shout) was Cheap Trick.
If you don't know much of Cheap Trick's work, look beyond "The Flame". Their early stuff is often cited by punk bands as influential and inspirational. Some Cheap Trick stuff from the 70's foreshadows what grunge would one day sound like. They were the masters of power pop, sometimes rough, sometimes much more smooth, loaded with hooks and built around crunchy guitar. Much of the music is a distinct and ever-so-intentional nod to the Beatles. Singer Robin Zander even admits. "If you're going to steal, steal from the best!"
Cheap Trick still going strong about 35 years after they started. They even have a new album out called "The Latest" I've listened to parts of it, it sounds pretty good. But this blog is not about that music.
The Tricksters have plenty of their own material to play, and they play all the time. A few times in the last few years though, they've chosen to put their own repertoire aside and play someone else's stuff. If you're going to do covers, cover the best....cover the best of the best. They've been recreating the Beatles' "Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." Not the song, my high school jazz band played that 27 years ago....THE WHOLE ALBUM...song for song, almost note for note.
They had a little help from a lot of friends. Recorded in December of 2007, but just released, the concert features The New York Philharmonic as well as some guest guitarists, and singers, and even a small band of Indian musicians.
It opens with the title track, a good old rocker, perfectly suited to the Cheap Trick style. Robin Zander is his own singer, no doubt, he says he takes on a different character as a vocalist depending on the mood of a song. Maybe that's why he seems to slide so easily between sounding Lennon-like and McCartney-esque. That's perfect for this project. On a song like "She's Leaving Home" you can hear the kind of melodic layering that Cheap Trick would later use over and over (think of "Voices" on the Dream Police album.)
Rick Nielsen has the guitar parts down, and he has a couple of other guitarists to help fill. His work adds a lot of color to the very colorful set of songs. Tom Petersson is rock solid on bass. You hear every note, and every note is just right. He seems to have found the spirit of McCartney's whimsical and playful bass style, while laying down a rock solid foundation for every moment of the show. Bun E. Carlos manages to get a big, varied sound out of a small drum kit. He does all the right fills and frills with snare, one tom, and a floor tom. The four members of Cheap Trick are all great at what they do and the extra musicians really help fill out the sound of what many consider one rock's finest pieces.
"With a Little Help From My Friends" is exactly like you hope it would be. Zander is terrific. "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" is every bit as psychedelic as the recorded version, and maybe a bit more lush live (for better or worse) with the orchestra joining in. It goes on from there. Guest singer Ian Ball of the band Gomez is wonderful on "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite" but I think I would rather have heard Robin Zander sing "When I'm Sixty-Four." I had the pleasure of hearing Sir Paul himself sing that on at Pepsi Center back in 2005, when I'm pretty sure he was already past sixty-four. We do still need him when he's sixty-four (plus)!
That's the thing about this dvd (cd). We never had a chance to hear the Beatles themselves do this stuff live. They're apparently even on record doubting it could be done live. Hearing an accomplished band like CT do it instead isn't as good, but it ain't half bad! "Lovely Rita" features guest singer Joan Osborne, "A Day in the Life" is fantastic with an orchestra. Even The only non-Lennon/McCartney song on the album, George Harrison's other-worldy "Within You Without You" is tackled here. That's where the band of Indian musicians on sitar etc. fits in.
Since you can't get too much of a good thing, after that final orchestral note of "A Day in the Life" where the original album ends, this concert goes on. The band/orchestra performs "Golden Slumbers", "Carry That Weight" and "The End" from the Abbey Road album.
It is an incredible end to an amazing show. McCartney and his band did those three at that 2005 concert too. (this is admittedly a very distant second to that, but how could it not be?)
All the proceeds from the DVD and CD got to research into preventing prostate cancer.
If you're a Cheap Trick fan, this will interest you. You get to hear the band do something outside its own catalog, yet clearly so dear to the hearts of its members. If you're a Beatles fan, it's a fun homage to the greatest. If you're not a Beatles fan, go buy Sgt. Peppers, (the original) and Abbey Road, and Rubber Soul, and you will soon be a Beatles fan.
When they recorded the opening line to the title track, "it was 20 years ago today...Sgt Pepper told the band to play, " everyone involved must have agreed that 20 years ago seemed like a long time. Sgt. Pepper was first released more than twice that long ago! It's getting better all the time.
Now it's been released again. It's different, it's live and it's well worth a listen.
"A splendid time is guaranteed for all."
We'll talk again soon.
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