Being the lifelong Beatles freak that I am, I already knew that Paul McCartney was an extraordinary bass player, and that Sgt. Pepper was one of his finest accomplishments. This often gets overlooked by the more casual fan who may only know him for his songwriting and vocal (and guitar, and keyboard) talents. What I did not know was if Cheap Trick's Tom Petersson was up to the task of tackling this bass masterwork. It certainly did not take long to receive that answer, as Petersson's brilliant performance was one of the highlights of this DVD.
I only mention this first because the bass playing and bass mix were the two things that jumped out at me when I first started watching this excellent new Sgt. Pepper tribute from America's next best thing – Cheap Trick. And I'm not even a bass player. It's as if Petersson oversaw the sound mixes himself, adding a few, "Just a taaaaad more volume on that bass track, Geoff. I can't quite hear myself," suggestions along the way. If only Rick Nielsen had done the same.
On December 12th, 2007 Cheap Trick performed the entire Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album, live, at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City, as part of a benefit for the Michael Milken Prostate Cancer Foundation Charity Concert & Auction. They had already performed two shows earlier that summer in Los Angeles to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Sgt. Pepper's 1967 release.
The DVD launches right into the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band title track, and I was really expecting Nielsen to blow the roof off the place with that song's monster opening guitar riff, but it's almost as if he forgot to turn his guitar up from five to ten. The same goes for "Good Morning Good Morning" and "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)" – his guitar just didn't have the same bite as the original versions. This may not be noticeable to the non-guitarists out there.
Other than this minor complaint (hey, you are doing The Beatles), Cheap Trick do an otherwise amazing job performing this monumental album live. John Lennon himself is reported to have said that Sgt. Pepper could never be played live – probably because of all the effects. I guess with enough of the right musicians, and the proper technology, anything is possible.
The four-member Cheap Trick certainly required a lot of help for this ambitious undertaking and they got it from the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, an Indian sitar band, and a host of guest artists, including Joan Osborne, and Ian Ball from the band Gomez. One of the most impressive guest performances was Rob Laufer's take on George Harrison's "Within You Without You." Laufer sounded like he was literally channeling Harrison, and the Indian sitar band was amazing. Although this has always been kind of the odd-ball song on the Sgt. Pepper album, it was always one of my favorites.
The oddest choice of the night was allowing Joan Osborne to sing lead on "Lovely Rita." I like Joan Osborne, but this was not a very good fit. She sings it well and all, but the song would have sounded much better coming from Robin Zander. A much better fit was Ian Ball's performances on "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" and "When I'm Sixty-Four." His English accent and vocal style was the perfect fit for these two quirky numbers.
Since the complete Sgt. Pepper album only took about 40 minutes to perform, Cheap Trick were generous enough to throw in a little Abbey Road medley at the end, which featured the awesome "Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End" finale. They could have been much more generous, though, since this still only brings the total running time to just under 50 minutes. They should have thrown in a set of their own material as well.
Geoff Emerick, the original Sgt. Pepper engineer, was onboard to mix and co-produce this DVD, and the results are excellent. Aside from Rick Nielsen's low guitar mix on some songs, the multitude of instruments, vocalists, and sound affects were all mixed beautifully. The widescreen video was sharp and vivid, and the camera work was outstanding. The only bonus feature is a 14-minute interview with each of the band members.
If you are a fan of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper album, or Cheap Trick, or especially both, then you will surely get a kick out of this DVD. Special kudos goes to Robin Zander who handles the vocal parts of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and Ringo Starr exquisitely and with the perfect nuance. Few other singers could have succeeded so well.
01. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
02. With A Little Help From My Friends
03. Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
05. Fixing A Hole
06. She's Leaving Home
07. Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!
08. Within You Without You
09. When I'm Sixty-Four
10. Lovely Rita
11. Good Morning Good Morning
12. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)
13. A Day In The Life
14. Medley Song: Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End
Performance – 8/10
Production – 9/10