Sgt. Pepper’s in Hollywood—concert of a lifetime

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-118962313411031.jpg’, ‘Photo by Mike Graham’, ‘THE FINAL BOW: Accepting a standing ovation from 18,000 people at the Hollywood Bowl, from left, Bill Lloyd, Gingger Shankar, Rick Nielsen, Al Jourgensen, Rob Laufer, Joan Osborne, Aimee Mann, Bun E. Carlos, Edwin Outwater, Robin Zander, Ian Ball, Tom Petersson and Danny Louis with members of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra in the background.‘);

For those who have ever been involved in theater, it’s common knowledge that opening night usually has some rough spots, and then the cast hits their stride the following night. Such was the case with the two performances of Sgt. Pepper’s at 40…a Beatles Celebration featuring Cheap Trick at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles Aug 10-11.

While the overall performance of the Friday night show was excellence, the momentousness of this complex and historic performance naturally caused some technical problems and some nervousness, even for all this fine collection of talented veterans. After all, this was the first live performance of the Beatles’ seminal work­—even they considered it too complicated to attempt.

Cheap Trick rehearsed it for a year (more about where later), so much so that bassist Tom Petersson knew he could play all the bass lines unaccompanied by heart. Guitarist Rick Nielsen said he actually “practiced” for the first time in years, and even his son, Miles, was amazed to find him at home with the CD playing, ensconced on the couch with guitar in hand.

All the musicians had the daunting task of performing a work listened to over and over by everyone—rather like Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony—every ear knew the slightest change in nuance.

After the national anthem, the opening piece was the “Beatles Instrumental Overture” featuring songs from all their albums by the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and Conductor Edwin Outwater (no strangers to rehearsing themselves). They seemed a little stiff, but technically perfect the first night. The second night, which was indicative of the flow of the performances, they really hit it with more spirit. That probably had something to do with that black and white Cheap Trick T-shirt Maestro Outwater wore, indicating with affection the blend of classical music and the genesis of the classic of pop rock. He then introduced Cheap Trick, commenting that their All Shook Up album was produced by Beatles impresario Sir George Martin engineered by Geoff (pronounced “Jeff”) Emerick, Sgt. Pepper’s original engineer, who was in the sound booth for the evening. History came forward.

The opening chords of “Magical Mystery Tour” were enthralling, and Robin Zander’s mammoth vocals with Rick Nielsen’s perfect harmonies established that Cheap Trick was ruling center stage for the evening. They also performed an interpretive version of song in 1972 in Tokyo, which you can watch on YouTube. But both nights in Hollywood, they did a track-on performance that was a great concept opener—the tour had just begun to sparkle.

One flaw of both nights was for the first half of the show, Nielsen’s guitar levels were lost in the mix. Again, the second night was better, but his guitar level was still not quite loud enough.

Outwater then introduced Ian Ball of the U.K. band Gomez. His rendition of “Strawberry Fields” was light and well timed, with good nuance. He tripped it the second night as well.

As Outwater noted in his introduction of Joan Osborne, she really brought some rhythm and blues to her almost sultry performances of “Lady Madonna” and “The Long and Winding Road.” The crowd loved her intense emoting, and she reminds me of a blend of a young Koko Taylor and the mature Bonnie Raitt. Check out her MySpace page, and buy her music!

Accompanied on guitar by Rob Laufer, Aimee Mann’s waifish performances of “Blackbird” also improved over the two evenings. Mann is a true song stylist with an alluring stage presence. Her literally blue guitar was a good metaphor for her mix of acoustic delicateness. Bun E. Carlos’ drumming for this floating number was just right, as usual.

Outwater introduced Laufer, referencing his role as George Harrison in the movie Beatlemania. He introduced his number, “Norwegian Wood,” as “a song about furniture.” OK. Zander’s backup vocals and the accompanying Aloke Dasgupta’s sitar playing put a fine varnish on a song well done.

For a song that has been covered by so many vocalists, the “Eleanor Rigby” instrumental by the orchestra was appropriate for their turn in the spotlight.

A highlight of both shows was “I Want You/She’s So Heavy” by Al Jourgensen and his guitarist Sin Quirin of the heavy metal band Ministry. Nielsen’s impish choice of this seemingly incongruous vocalist proves the large elf has a good taste in friends and musical imagination. By having Jourgensen sing this “heavy” number, Nielsen continued the Beatles’ theme of including all music to make new music. Jourgensen’s iron-rasping boom of a voice shocked some, but amused most, right down to a good laugh about a dark subject. The first night, Jourgensen brought out a guitar that seemed to malfunction, and went on a bit too long and strongly with the repetitive lyrics. The second night (sans guitar), the dreadlocked, long-black-coated blaster hit the right length and level with vocals, capturing the crowd. Yes, the Beatles did rock, with a sense of humor, just like Nielsen and Jourgensen!

Cheap Trick closed out the first medley half of the show with “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End.” All the special guests sang backup harmonies to Zander’s spectacular lead. The “lullaby,” the “weight,” “And in the end/ The love you take/ Is equal to the love you make” was a perfect close to the first half of the shows.


Cheap Trick came back with the song “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”—and they were. The whole setting was eerily and powerfully similar to the album cover—the strangely costumed conglomeration of disparate, colorful characters­—right down to “Beatles” laid out in the almost exact flower arrangement on the album in front of the stage.

And the “40” not “20 years ago today Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play,” sung by Zander, captured everything. Yes, the album was ranked No. 1 in Rolling Stone’s “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time”; and as Outwater said, Cheap Trick is the only band that could do the Beatles’ magnum opus justice.

“With a Little Help from My Friends” by Cheap Trick and all their special guests singing again brought the brilliant design of the composition and the brilliant design of the reality of the present into a magical realm.

Osborne picked up the power of the moment and just nailed “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” Buy her music! John Lennon has to be proud of Osborne’s performance. She took everyone on a good and powerful journey.

Cheap Trick did Lennon and McCartney just fine as their “concept” performance continued with “Getting Better” “all the time.”

Mann’s performance of “Fixing a Hole” was just plain spooky with her touch of sadness and oddness that lifted up a graceful rendition and tribute.

“She’s Leaving Home” by Cheap Trick, with Nielsen and Ball’s harmonizing with Zander’s note-perfect lead, continued the power of the evening, pulling on the heart memories of many around me, some of whom seemed to get choked up.

Ball was also the perfect choice to perform “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite.” Lennon sang this originally, and Ball really found him in appearance, demeanor and tone. While a real harmonium (a small, portable, bellow-blown reed organ used in India; player usually sits on ground, one hand fingering keyboard— was played by George Martin on the recording, Ball used one of the modern handheld ones for his performance.

Another highlight of the evenings was “Within You Without You” performed by Laufer, orchestra and the Indian Ensemble: Aloke Dasgupta, sitar; Satnam Singh Ramgotra, tabla; Gingger Shankar, double violin; Christopher Smith, bass tanpura; Mohiuddin Ahmend, swar-mandal and second sitar; and Mark Power, treble tanpura. Wow. They were all channeling George Harrison and the cultural mindset of the piece. The ’60s and India came rhythming and zooming into the Hollywood Bowl to a standing ovation.

The spirit of fun continued with “When I’m Sixty-Four.” The youthful Ball threw the puckishness of McCartney’s original vocal

s right on out there, proving the universality of that song.

Mann was obviously having a good time with “Lovely Rita,” too. Where she was a bit tenuous with it the first night, she completely took “some tea with me” Saturday night. Her performance and that song are memory glue.

Cheap Trick’s “Good Morning Good Morning” had some timing and sound effect technical difficulties the first night. Damn rooster, birds, cat, dogs, horse, elephant and chickens! But the whole zooie barnyard was in perfect sync the second night, just blasting out, particularly Zander’s voice. Carlos’ drumming and Nielsen’s guitars were startling.

The closing number, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Reprise” really showcased Cheap Trick, all the artists and the orchestra as a band. Mention should also be made of the fine job done by Danny Louis on keyboards and Bill Lloyd on back up guitars. They were “right there” throughout both performances.

Risking sounding redundant, Zander shone though every number, whether on backup vocals or in his leads, especially in “A Day in the Life” with the orchestra and Louis. What a closer! The concerts gave the lucky audience “a photograph,” and “a film” produced at and by the highest peak of musicianship—by the Beatles and everyone on and off stage Aug. 10-11, 2007. Rockford’s Cheap Trick said, “I’d love to turn you on,” and they did exactly that for everyone there. In spite of the rumors, Ringo and Paul, you missed it, but would’ve loved it. I’m sure John and George were there.

What could they do for the “must” encore? “All You Need Is Love,” of course. The finale brought all the singers to the mics, and the whole crowd, 18,000 times two nights, was singing along. We all will continue to do so for years to come.

On a personal note, special thanks to: the City of Rockford and Jim Ryan; Mike Graham for excellent photographs and help; Larry Jones for the extra ticket. Carla Dragotti, the goddess and general of backstage for her many efforts—as Mike Graham says, “She is a one-woman wonder;” Lisa White, publicist, Los Angeles Philhamonic and Hollywood Bowl for her professionalism and hospitality; C.T.’s Manager David Frey for his understanding; Lighting tech and stage manager Larry Morin and his crew for all their kind help; and Rob Wayne, Mike Marnelli, Dave and Pam Miles, Nick and Heather Gunn, and Chris Wachowiak for their great company during the show and hospitality before and after… “Love is all you need.”

As a point of pride for everyone, Graham told me Engineer Emerick was “ecstatic about the performances!” Again, as Aimee Mann exclaimed during the Saturday show, “Cheap Trick is the best band in the world!”

from the Sept. 12 – 18, 2007, issue

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