Originally posted online at www.ocregister.com on Saturday, August 11, 2007
Cheap Trick, Joan Osborne, Aimee Mann and others perform the Beatles' masterpiece and other Fab Four favorites with a symphony orchestra.
By ROBERT KINSLER
Special to the Register
It's hard to imagine a musical landscape without the Beatles. Almost from the moment the Fab Four burst on the international scene in 1964, the group's songs, distinctive sound and style had an impact not only on modern music, but on the world.
The Beatles scored a number of triumphs across the 1960s, but the release of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" on June 1, 1967 changed the pop universe in ways still felt four decades later.
A loving and fully-realized tribute to that masterwork, "Sgt. Pepper's at 40…a Beatles Celebration" brought a capacity crowd to the Hollywood Bowl on Friday, Aug. 10 (to be staged again on Saturday night). Under the direction of conductor Edwin Outwater, the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and house band Cheap Trick were joined by a group of other artists in a two-hour program that was divided into two sections, with various well-known songs from albums such as "Rubber Soul," "The White Album," "Magical Mystery Tour," "Let It Be" and "Abbey Road" performed early in the night, while "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" was played in its entirety after the intermission.
Most of the selections played during the concert were never actually performed in concert by the Beatles when they were together, so the opportunity to see a talented line-up of players such as Aimee Mann, Joan Osborne, Ian Ball and Rob Laufer deliver performances of the classics with the accompaniment of a full orchestra allowed most of the performers to put their own stamp on the selections while honoring the original recordings.
Since the late 1970s, Cheap Trick has been one of the hardest working bands in America, performing at clubs, arenas and festivals while recording terrific collections blending power pop, punk and modern rock. The band's performance on Friday allowed a chance to focus on its musical chops and interpretive skills.
From the opening song of the night ("Magical Mystery Tour") to a medley from "Abbey Road" that closed the first half of the show, singer Robin Zander, guitarist Rick Nielsen, drummer Bun E. Carlos and bassist Tom Petersson provided powerful renditions of the songs. And while Cheap Trick and Gomez singer Ian Ball (whose orchestra-anchored "Strawberry Fields Forever" was among the highlights of the night) were mostly faithful to the originals in terms of arrangements, performances by Osborne (R&B styled takes on "Lady Madonna" and "The Long and Winding Road") and Mann (a beautifully fragile "Blackbird") displayed that even when reworked, the Beatles' songs continue to work their magic.
The performance of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" remains a challenge and no doubt it took significant planning to get the classically trained orchestra in sync with a group of rock players and even a six-member group of musicians playing Indian instruments such as sitar, tabla and double violin during a memorable "Within You Without You" (ably sung by Rob Laufer).
While the performance of the 13-song "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" was revisited with mostly strong results, there were wrinkles, such as during "Good Morning Good Morning" on which the mix of sound effects, orchestra and Cheap Trick didn't blend perfectly. Yet, the inclusive presentation worked, with Mann, Osborne and Ball also getting to take the lead on various tracks from the album.
The tour de force of the night rightfully came during "A Day in the Life," with a marvelously chilling lead vocal from Zander delivered against a dramatic soundscape of his band and a full orchestra that left an undeniable impression and had many in the crowd immediately rise to their feet when the final chord of the work was struck.
The entire ensemble of singers and musicians were called back for an encore, performing "All You Need Is Love," the perfect song to reinforce the spirit of a special night not soon forgotten.