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.