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Cheap Trick performing the Beatles??? Has the world gone mad? Well, only a little. One must realize that Cheap Trick, formed in 1974, built quite a fan base through its own brand of using power-rock chords that emoted a hard-edge but retained enough melodic themes that attracted those on the outer currents of pop rock and punk rock. Their music does combines the tune- worthy formulaic modes of The Beatles but with an energy that speeds up without bowling over into pure ranting and screaming of those in the punk rock genre of that time. The Los Angeles Times has remarked that “Cheap Trick gained fame by twisting the Beatlesque into something shinier, harder, more American.” Your next question is: What were their biggest hits? A few include the songs “Surrender”, “I Want You to Want Me”, and “Dream Police.”
So it was with ardent curiosity when the available ticket brought me to the Hilton Theater, my favorite venue to see them perform Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band. Having seen Paul McCartney in sold-out arenas four times and never hearing anything as elaborate as a 21 piece orchestra, 6 backup vocalists, a children’s choir, mixed with an old rock bank that I’d thought had hit the old folks home by now, I couldn’t imagine how this escapade could be pulled off credibly. Featured guest artists included Grammy-Award winning vocalist Joan Osborne, Rob Laufer, Bill Lloyd, and Ian Ball all of whom performed in the beginning of the show before Cheap Trick entered the stage through a very clever revolving set that housed the entire orchestra 16 feet up in the air and provided three circular stages underneath them to facilitate the quick turnover to the Sgt. Pepper’s portion. As the curtain rose that set was exposed.
The orchestra opened with an absolutely beautiful symphonic medley of “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “She Loves You,” “Love Me Do,” and “Please, Please Me.” Ms. Osborne then took the stage and deftly sang “Can’t Buy Me Love,” and the timeless “Long and Winding Road.” The orchestra then took over and performed the classic “Eleanor Rigby.” Let me stop here a moment to comment that in the nineties I lived in Puerto Rico and had the chance to see the Puerto Rican Symphony Orchestra perform Holst’s incredible symphony “The Planets.” That alone was a rare treat unto itself. The most marvelous thing of this show was to watch these players moving and thrusting their bodies into such soulful unpretentious mesmerizations of being one with the vibrations that they perfectly emitted from their instruments, that they naturally drew you into their magical mojo as an unintentional byproduct of their emotionalism and love of their craft exactly as those moments I experienced many years ago.
The engineer’s use of effects to recreate Lennon’s experiment of running his voice through a Leslie speaker for “Across the Universe” with the Las Vegas Children’s Choir was as ethereal as the original. It was truly like “a wind inside a letter box.”
And then the transition occurred and here was Cheap Trick with Rick Nielsen and his baseball cap and striped suit prancing, dancing, and irreverently swinging his guitar to the beginning of that classic album. The album that the Beach Boy’s leader Brian Wilson called the “perfect album,” the same one that he tried to compose first and gave up his quest after hearing what he perceived as the Beatles’- no the world’s – ultimate recording.
I then realized that when I read Geoff Emerick’s name on the roster as Sound Direction and Co-Producer that it all made sense. Those orchestra parts were exactly as George Martin, “the fifth Beatle” had written them in 1967. Every nuance, speck, part and parcel of each tiny inflection of this live sound mimicked that album without exception. And by the way, Mr. Emerick was the engineer for Sgt. Pepper’s back in 1967 so there was the connection to the “how” of this event.
The bonus tracks of “Golden Slumbers,” “Carry That Weight,” “The End” and the show “encore,” “All You Need is Love,” brings the Beatles’ genius and the energy and vivaciousness of the current band playing their hearts out into focus after experiencing the beginnings of their musical careers at the top of the show. It was a wise choice than to end with just the Sgt. Pepper’s songs, as the orchestra was already there for that monumental epic, why not go out with a huge bang from their later material? Good call on the producer’s part although I wish someone had sung “Something” that perfect ode to George’s wife Patti Boyd, instead of Bill Lloyd playing lead guitar on the melody, but that is a minor complaint.
And lest I forget a huge part of this ensemble was Magic Christian, the keyboardist who provided all of McCartney’s piano parts and used his synthesizers perfectly to authenticate each track. Todd Youth on bass enthusiastically played every Mac line note-for-note and the conductor affectionately introduced as “Billy Shears” did an outstanding job putting the orchestra though it’s amazing paces this fine evening.
The most amazing part of the show came when George Harrison’s “Within You, Without You” was performed. An authentic Indian ensemble appeared with Gingger Shankar (Her mother was a classical singer, and her father, L. Subramaniam, is a world renowned violinist) playing the double violin, with two sitar players, and bass and treble Tampura instruments exactly capturing this spiritual encompassment of Mr. Harrison’s experience with the music and religious aura of that nation.
The vocals of Rob Laufer were magically suited to every note of the past and this was more than just a band rehashing an old classic. The entire experience, as exacting as it was, evoked new emotional thrills by the live performances of both a rock band and orchestra blending into a dimension of past time that never was. This was a “what if” had the Beatles kept touring and attempted such an endeavor to achieve such lushness of a tracked album by being backed by a full orchestra and vocalists. It was the concert that never was performed by the seemingly most unlikely band using the most unlikely Beatles album. It worked magnificently!
I ran into people who had seen it more than once and honestly I would have gone back for seconds and thirds myself. I mean when the song Sgt. Pepper’s Reprise kicks in that rooster crowing for that split second, the madness of the orchestra of “Day in the Life” swells and then crescendos to its ultimate conclusion, and then that infamous orchestral down stroke to the tonic note, what more does one want out of a concert? It is real and it is hair-raising. I could go on and on about every small detail and the attentiveness paid to each and every one of them, but my suggestion is if you can go see it-GO! This tour will not last forever, like the original band, like any ephemeral burst of pure creativity, the moment passes quickly. Take the time and listen to what could have been, but was only preserved on tape and disc until now. It’s no cheap trick believe me.
A while back, I went to my favorite concert venue, The Las Vegas Hilton, to see the “new” lineup of Starship, AKA Jefferson Starship, and the third generation of Jefferson Airplane. The Hilton showroom is a wonderful place to see a show as there isn’t a bad seat in the house and the big comfy chairs are a far cry from the seats that barely hold one cheek of your derriere in any other venue, and allow plenty of leg room as well.
The old Jefferson Airplane in this day and age would probably have been locked up in this Patriot Act paranoia of today. ‘Got to Revolution’ just wouldn’t go over like the old days…….for shame as the internet and keyboards have taken over from in-body protests and are far less effective……..but I digress. The addition of Las Vegas’ own Stephanie Calvert (http://stephcalvert.com/) allows the introduction of the more tame Airplane treasure trove of White Rabbit, Somebody to Love, and others that haven’t been heard by myself since I saw them in Santa Cruz at Lorenzi Park in 1994 with Jack Cassady, Craig Chaquico, and other original band members and a young woman that looked a lot like Grace Slick, but wasn’t. That was also the last time I heard “Hearts” a song that I didn’t hear at the Hilton, perhaps because of copyright reasons, as it is such a beautiful song, one of the Starship’s best written and sung so incredibly well by alumni Marty Balin and the Fender Rhodes repeating an ascending scale that raised your armhairs.
Mickey Thomas’ voice was on pitch considering the high ranges he vaults to and from, but could take a tip from Boz Scaggs and get a steam humidifier tube on his mike stand, as he cracked from time to time due to “Vegas Throat” a malady that affects every singer that comes into town…..but don’t misunderstand me; he performed with full heart and soul and brought you back to yesteryear and the days of ballads mixed with energized rock and roll.
Stephanie Calvert was a delight to hear and see and she’s quite sexy in dress, delivery, and dramatics as she belts out Grace’s legacy without the slightest hesitation. Her latex-laced legs and forceful features grabbed you and forced you to become engaged with her siren-like serenade and the audience loved her.
The band consists of:
Mickey Thomas *Lead Vocals, Guitar – Stephanie Calvert *Vocals – Mark Abrahamian *Lead Guitar, Vocals –Jeff Adams *Bass, Vocals – Phil Bennett *Keyboards, Vocals – Darrell “Pelican” Verdusco *Drums, Vocals
In case you’ve forgotten their hits here are some they performed: “Jane” “No Way Out” “We Built This City” “Sarah” “Nothing Gonna Stop Us Now” “Find Your Way Back” “Stranger” “Laying It On The Line” “It’s Not Over Till It’s Over” and the Elvin Bishop Group’s, “I Fooled Around and Fell in Love,” a song Mr. Thomas carries with him from his time as the lead singer for Elvin Bishop-a trivia fact not well known.
It was a fun 90 minute romp of rock and roll the old fashioned way……with real musicians with everyone’s ‘hearts’ in every song….now if I can just get Mickey Thomas to sing that song……..Hearts Will Be That Way.
It was a rare privilege and honor to be at the “presence” of these incredible intense and dedicated human beings. Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood in concert, this, first time since they combined to form the group “Blind Faith” in the Sixties. The magic was in the air, the ballads and blues graceful and the memories abounded as their humbleness and love for their music overwhelmed everyone. Steve Winwood, a Hammond B-3 (my god -he even used the stops constantly!) a relic long gone for decades. His exquisite guitar playing and beautiful voice, combined with Clapton totally in the pocket of that ‘zone,” was extraordinary, the height of which I’ve seen but few times in the many times I have seen him in concert. His eyes closed or rolled upwards, no need for him to look at his fretboard; his power, speed, and emotion pulsated through every cell and molecule in your body………..Voodoo Chile……….Eric goes outside himself and reincarnates Hendrix, something that he himself said in an interview that he was “afraid” of approaching………he obviously conquered that fear and went beyond……..he “kept on growing.”
“The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys”-acoustic piano solo with Steve was precious beyond words…….the acoustic guitar sets with both legends………just a jewel of time to be treasured. May it’s effect last as long as those memories can.
Clapton / Winwood Set List – 27 June 2009
MGM Grand Arena, Las Vegas, NV
1. Had To Cry Today
2. Low Down
3. After Midnight
4 . Presence of The Lord
5. Sleeping in the Ground
6 . Glad
7. Well Alright
8. Tough Luck Blues
9. Pearly Queen
10. There’s A River
11. Forever Man
12. Low Spark of High Heeled Boys
14. How Long Blues
15. Layla – (acoustic version)
16. Can’t Find My Way Home
Back to Ass-Kicking Rock and Roll
17. Split Decision
18. Voodoo Chile
20. Dear Mr. Fantasy
Eric Clapton – guitar, vocals
Steve Winwood – vocals, Hammond B3, piano, guitar
Chris Stainton – keyboards
Willie Weeks – bass
Abe Laboriel, Jr. – drums
Sharon White – backup vocals
Michelle John – backup vocals
My wife has been pestering me for the last few months to take her to see Barry Manilow. I have been resisting her for many different reasons. Having been a musician seeking work in the recession era of the mid-70s, and experiencing the repercussions of the disco era disc jockeys that put many a musician out of work, I had a little bit of bitterness at just the sound of his name. It’s not that I didn’t listen to the songs, I just had a bad attitude towards any of the popular music of that time. Give me the Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers, and The Band anytime. After all, that was the era that produced the Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band movie starring the BeeGees-how much more sacrilegious can you get? Having spoken to other people who had seen the show, I was aware that, not only was it entertaining, but that many people went back a second and a third time and that Mr. Manilow had to rotate his musical selections to accommodate that. Not many shows in Vegas have that repeatability factor so I was a little impressed. I broke down and bought tickets for my wife’s birthday and then had to endure the ridicule of my brother a former metalhead 10 years younger than I.
The crowd became restless when the preshow music repeated itself 15 minutes after the show was scheduled to open. We were directly in front of the soundboard and there was some hubbub related to the show’s late opening. Finally the lights dimmed and the show went on. His voice seemed a little off key and scratchy which is not unusual for a singer in Las Vegas. Due to the very low humidity and dryness “Vegas throat” can strike at any time. His band consisted of three very multi-talented and beautiful female dancers/backup singers and one equally talented male, three keyboard players, a more than adequate horn section, and a very tight rhythm section that replicated those pulsing sweaty disco beats that brought a bevy of inebriated John Travolta wannabes to the wooden parquet dance floors as part of the mating call rituals of the late 70s. Not having heard these songs in over 25 years I was able to judge them without prejudice and indeed I was extremely impressed at Mr. Manilow’s arrangements and especially the complexity of each song’s developmental middle sections. The little Jewish boy from Brooklyn really did a monumental job of taking influences from jazz and the big band era and infusing them into sugary teenage love ballads that struck a chord and delivered to him the most of commercial success. For that he should be given his due, and the passion that he evokes from his audiences cannot be ignored. He IS “Music and Passion” as is aptly the name of this production. There are film clips and an audio piece of a recording from his childhood that plays into a wonderful true story of how Mr. Manilow began his travels on a path to stardom. Overall, the music was more than entertaining, it brought you back to a time of innocence a time when you shook your thing (as he did more than once calling himself “a boney ass”), did not worry about tomorrow, and merged with the flashing lights and disco ball’s splintered starlight and didn’t worry about what it all meant.
As he warmed up his voice got stronger and stronger as each song demanded more and more of his upper register, something I do believe was preplanned and smartly executed, as age begins to diminish one’s vocal range. He performed everything that one would expect him to perform and delved into some Motown and other 60’s songs that were most entertaining. The grande finale was of course Copacabana and a giant steel staircase with a huge disco ball dropped from the ceiling and he danced and cavorted with his fellow singers and mimicked the bygone era of disco.
Objectively, I must admit I was fascinated listening to his arrangements and the complexities of this man’s music. He was indeed the king of the pop ballad back then and he deserves his due. And as much as I despise that whole era of mindless music, his music is anything but mindless. His words may appeal to the heartstrings of female adolescence, but so did that of the Beatles in the very beginning of their careers. Yes, I have to admit it, I thoroughly enjoyed the show and would highly recommend it. That, in itself shows you how much I’ve matured as well. No hard feelings Barry, you indeed were the man who wrote the songs and lived your dreams.