Friday, November 21, 2008

Cheap Trick Does Sgt. Pepper's at Ruth Eckerd (Review)

I caught a pleasant if less than knock-out performance by Cheap Trick & friends tonight at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, for the 40th anniversary celebration of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Yes, the Beatles album was released in '67, but this show was a follow-up to star-studded shows last year in L.A. and New York.

The show opened with several Beatles medleys performed by a mini-orchestra led by Craig Turley. Donovan, straight from Ireland (as was announced twice from the stage) followed with a short set of his music - including "Catch the Wind" and big hit "Sunshine Superman" - and then brief reminiscences about his time hanging with the Fab Four in India. He recounted eating vegetarian with the Beatles in the jungle, watching monkeys steal food from their plates, and teaching fingerpicking techniques to John, while Paul looked on. He then proceeded to play pleasant versions of Lennon's "Dear Prudence" and McCartney's "Blackbird."

Cheap Trick, with Robin Zander (a Safety Harbor resident) out front in white captain's hat, white slacks, white shoes and a black military-style uniform, proved confident and entertaining on the Sgt Pepper's album, played straight through with only brief pauses between songs. And with a little help from their friends - guitarist Bill Lloyd and keyboardist Phil Christian.

The format, generally faithful renditions of the tunes, with Rick Nielsen letting loose with some well-placed guitar rips at the end of "Fixing a Hole," seemed constraining. "She's Leaving Home," up next, was a showcase for Zander, who was joined only by an auxiliary keyboardist and the orchestra. His voice remains a pop-rock treasure

I realize that the idea was to approach these pieces with reverence, and I can appreciate that impulse, but, really, why not open up more of them and let Cheap Trick be Cheap Trick?

For George Harrison's "Within You Without You," Cheap Trick left the stage and Donovan returned, joined by a violinist, and the orchestra was augmented with a sitarist and tabla player. Nice contrast and all, but the quite tricky melody seemed to defeat Donovan, as he appeared to lose his place a couple of times.

Short encore: an inspired performance of the "Golden Slumbers" medley, and another impressive if truncated solo by Nielsen, this time on his sunburst Les Paul, one of four (or more?) six-strings he pulled out during the evening. A noted collector, he owns about 400 guitars, according to one account.

*(With that long straight hair, his look was a tad too reminiscent of David Lee Roth, circa the Diamond Dave days).

Geoff Emerick, who twiddled the knobs on the original Sgt. Pepper's recording, indeed was manning the soundboard for this show. Nice job of isolating the string section, and making sure that they were adequately heard. And yet ... the sound was not nearly as crisp or clear as I had expected or wanted, or as is usually the case at Ruth Eckerd Hall. Too many mids, resulting in too much "roar," not enough bottoms, and the highs weren't bright enough.

Not that I'm complaining, mind you, except to say that at $75 a ticket, my ears desired something more pristine (I took my son, Chase, with me, for a $150 evening, not including $6 parking and ice cream cones on the way home).

By the way, nice advance features on the show by Curtis Ross in the Tampa Tribune (couldn't find this on - no surprise, as the site is notoriously confusing and not comprehensive) and Sean Daly in the St. Petersburg Times.

And I just found Curtis's review of the show. Click here.

By the way, part two: My old jamband, Ghetto Love Sugar, contributed a version of "Within You Without You" to the WMNF With a Little Help From Our Friends CD, a Sgt. Pepper's tribute by Tampa Bay area bands. That track (will try to link to it later) was probably GLS's second finest hour, in terms of recordings, following our work on our sole full-length release, The Uncertainty Principle.


Sean Daly's review (SP Times)- odd note: Headline refers to the album as "Sarge"

Eric Snider's review (Creative Loafing)

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