I guess you need to sing “It was 20 years ago today…” twice in order to say that you’ve reached the 40th anniversary of what is widely regarded as the most influential album of the modern era. “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, released on 1st June 1967 saw The Beatles push back the boundaries with a group of imaginative and innovative songs, and utilising ground breaking recording techniques. Whilst albums come and go, “Sgt Pepper” continues to stand at the pinnacle of recorded music over the past 50 years.
I believe that the decision to recreate the Sergeant Pepper album was made by the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, led by American conductor Edwin Outwater. The Hollywood Bowl hosts a season of concerts every summer in that enormous and legendary outdoor venue, and someone had the bright idea to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the album’s release by performing it this summer. Cheap Trick, whose love and connections with The Beatles are well known were approached to be “the house band”. Other guest vocalists and musicians were recruited, and these two hot August nights were announced. As you can imagine, this was an event too good to miss, even if Cheap Trick weren’t going to be performing any CT songs. So back in March, I booked flights and bought the concert tickets, and was then a case of waiting for the shows to come around.
Thursday 9 Aug 2007 – Travelling to LA
I’ll spare you too many boring travel details… I flew from Leeds/Bradford over to Amsterdam as usual, and then had a nearly 11 hour non-stop flight from Amsterdam into LAX. The flight was nearly full, and I had a seat reclined back in my face all flight :-( My plane landed an hour late, and immigration and customs were slow, taking around 90 minutes. By the time I got my rental car the LA rush hour (well… when the roads are mostly at a dead stop rather than just extremely slow) was well underway, and it took nearly two hours to crawl the 18 miles to my “cheap” Hollywood hotel. I love LA. I had to drive back to LAX a little later to pick up Patricia (who was flying in from Chicago), and it was a little faster each way, but not much. And the temperature was well into the 80’s, typical Southern California summer weather.
Friday 10 Aug 2007 – Sgt Pepper at 40 show #1
Oh, just so I don’t confuse you, let me clarify that the same show was being performed on two consecutive nights.
I was at the Hollywood Bowl mid-afternoon to collect my show tickets from willcall, and ended up helping CT’s usual merchandise guys to set up the stall on the slope leading up to the venue. We could hear soundcheck going on, and I was able to go and take a short look at proceedings. Soundcheck went on for quite a long time, and this on top of the artists rehearsing during the week at local studios.
It was still very warm and sunny as gates opened at 6pm, and the first of the sell-out 18,000 crowd poured in. Many had cushions (for the hard bench seats) or picnic boxes, and were obviously regular patrons here and knew what to expect at the venue.
The outdoor venue is huge, with the shell-like covered stage at the bottom of the bowl and the banked seating rising up the hillside. The stage was both wide and deep, with the artists performing area in front, and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra to the rear half of the stage on a riser. Behind them on the rear wall was a purple backdrop with a round “Sgt Pepper at 40” logo. To either side of stage front were 3-4 large green potted plants. Bun E’s drumset was front stage centre, complete with a new drumhead showing (in a Beatles style font) a small “Bun E” atop a larger “Cheap Trick”. Rick had a small, low selection of his backline behind him, and a little further to stage left was an area for the Indian ensemble. Behind Rick would be seated extra guitarist Bill Lloyd, and to the far side of stage right were keyboards for Danny Louis of Govt Mule. There were large video screens to either side of the Bowl, with two further screens partway up the hill for the folks furthest from the stage. There was a large USA flag on a pole just to the left of the front of the Bowl stage, with a California flag on the opposite side. And in tribute to the reason for these shows, to the very front of stage centre was a red flower arrangement spelling out “Beatles” just like on the album cover. And both tonight and tomorrow night were warm and balmy, perfect weather to be outdoors and watching a small slice of musical history.
It’s hard to know where to start and how best to describe the evening, so I’ll start off with the basics and add detail further on. This is the setlist as performed both nights:
Overture (including Day Tripper, Paperback Writer, For No One, Here Comes the
Sun, Hey Jude) - Orchestra
Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – vocal by Robin Zander
You Need is Love - vocal shared by all vocalists
The lights dimmed at 8.32pm as the orchestra warmed up, but didn’t go down fully until 8.36pm when conductor Edwin Outwater, casually dressed in white shirt and blue jeans, came onto the stage and the orchestra played the American national anthem. As this was a Beatles celebration, I was just a tad surprised that they didn’t also play “God Save the Queen”… The orchestra then went into a nice 4-5 minute medley of Beatles tunes to start up the proceedings, before Edwin, as master of ceremonies, briefly introduced Cheap Trick. The band came on to perform a great version of “Magical Mystery Tour”, backed by the orchestra and also the unobtrusively seated guitarist Bill Lloyd and keyboardist Danny Louis.
black jacket with checkerboard sleeves, black t-shirt with small Beatles logo,
The band (plus backing) played a nice, rocking version of Magical Mystery Tour and looked at ease on the large stage. When they finished the song, they left the stage, and Edwin then explained that when this concept was being considered, Cheap Trick were the only choice to be the house band. He said they’d recorded their “All Shook Up” album in 1980 with Sir George Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick, both of whom had worked on Sgt Pepper with The Beatles. In fact, the last note of “A Day in the Life” from Sgt Pepper was taken by Sir George and used as the first note of “All Shook Up”. He continued by saying that Geoff Emerick was the live sound consultant for these shows, which brought warm applause. He then explained the content of the show – that several guest vocalists would be introduced during the first half, each singing their favourite Beatles song(s), and the second half would be a recreation of the entire Sgt Pepper album.
Ian Ball from the British band Gomez was next to be introduced on stage, and sang a terrific “Strawberry Fields”. Towards the end of the song he went and joined Robin Zander who was standing behind Rick’s low backline, and Ian put his arm around Robin. That was indicative of the spirit both tonight and tomorrow, with all of the artists clearly enjoying themselves and also having forged strong bonds during rehearsal. And it should also be noted that not all of the artists left the stage after their songs, but often went and stood or sat quietly at the front of the orchestra riser. There was little sidestage to view from, so it was probably easier for them to continue watching whilst on stage.
Next to be introduced was Joan Osborne, in a striking apricot coloured dress, and performed “Lady Madonna” and “The Long and Winding Road” accompanied by Cheap Trick and orchestra.
Local musician Rob Laufer was next to be introduced, he’d played George Harrison in “Beatlemania”. Most of the musicians had left the stage or moved back into the shadows, as Rob announced “This is a song about furniture”. He performed a wonderful version of “Norwegian Wood”, with Robin on backing vocals, as well as a sitar player to stage left.
Next up was Aimee Mann, dressed very much in a bohemian New York style. Before she started someone in the crowd shouted out “I love you Aimee” which caught her by surprise a bit. But she quickly responded “I love you too… if I knew you”. She performed “Blackbird”, accompanied by Rob on guitar and Bun E playing subtle drums. They all then left the stage and the orchestra performed a vocal-less “Eleanor Rigby”.
Cheap Trick returned to the stage, with Edwin announcing “And we’re going to end the first half as we started it, with Cheap Trick”. Rick then said “Hello” and asked for the house lights up… which didn’t happen! He quickly recovered to continue “I think we know most of you!” before thanking Geoff and Edwin “for dragging us from Illinois”. He continued “We’ve played at the Budokan… the Starwood… the Whisky a Go-Go…” which brought a few cheers from the crowd at those legendary LA venues, “but this is our first time here.” He then brought on Al Jourgensen and guitarist Sin from the industrial metal band Ministry, Al saying “I think old people like us!” Actually, I think some of the “old” people were a bit perplexed! Then CT, Ministry and keyboardist performed “I Want You (She’s So Heavy) from Abbey Road”, Rick and Robin contributing backing vox. Al’s rough, industrial vocal style matched the song pretty well, and this was indeed heavy, and protracted too, lasting a good 5-6 minutes. I think many of the audience were shocked, or just found it plain funny. Personally I thought this was a brave and inspired choice that worked well. I think that this highlighted that a few of the Beatles songs are actually quite dark, and the contrast between the songs performed by the “safe” artists and this one was stark. After my initial surprise, I thought this was really cool! At the end of the song Al growled “Budokan!”, then somewhat ironically “Goodnight Hollywood Bowl, you’ve been great!”
The first half was closed with one of my very favourite Beatles songs, the “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End” medley from Abbey Road, performed by Cheap Trick, vocalled amazingly well by Robin and with the other guest vocalists backing. Wonderful stuff!
Two other (and important) things I should mention were the excellent sound and lighting. Sitting as I was, halfway back up the slope, the sound was clear and almost perfect. Credit to the guys working sound. And the stage lighting was nicely done too. As well as a normal lighting rig above the stage, carefully hidden lighting utilised the pattern of the ceiling high above the stage, giving a nice effect. The colours ranged from a pale lilac for softer songs to bold reds, blues and greens for more uptempo numbers. It all added to the magic of the evening.
The first half ended at 9.22pm, and the interval lasted 22 minutes before the lights dimmed, and a couple of minutes later the second half began with Cheap Trick taking to the stage. Rick had changed into a deep pink coloured suit, and before starting up, he held up a new, yellow custom guitar with the Beatles faces on the front and the words “40 Years Ago” on the rear! Robin had changed too, into black pants, white shirt with black waistcoat and tie, black leather mod cap, shades and natty white/black shoes. The set opened, of course, with “Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band”, performed by Cheap Trick (plus the other vocalists backing), and Robin sang both this and “With a Little Help from My Friends”. The rumour that Ringo might turn up proved to be unfounded.
Joan Osborne stepped up to sing “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, and Robin could be seen with the other backing vocalists and a wine glass in his hand! The end chord of this incorporated a little of “Oh Claire” from CT’s Heaven Tonight album, very cool. At the end of the song, Rick looked at Joan and said “God she’s good!”
The next song was “Getting Better” with Robin on vocals and Rob Laufer played guitar along with CT.
“Fixing a Hole” was very seriously sung by Aimee Mann.
Robin again took the vocal lead for a very moving rendition of “She’s Leaving Home”, and the harmonising with Rick on backing vocals and Ian Ball doing some of the chorus lines was extremely well done.
Ian Ball then stepped up to sing “Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite”, and his jaunty style fitted the song perfectly. Towards the end of the song he went over to the main keyboards, picked up a little portable Casio keyboard and played it into the lead mic!
Most of the artists now left the stage, leaving Rob Laufer on guitar and the 6-7 strong Indian ensemble sitting crossed legged on a mat to stage left. Oh, and the orchestra were still on stage of course, throughout. Gingger Shankar started “Within You Without You” on a double violin, and it was all just fabulous. It was a real experience to hear that wonderful song performed live and accompanied by Indian instruments, and I’m sure I’m not the only one to feel that this was one of the evenings highlights.
All of the artists returned to the stage after this, and the next song was “When I’m Sixty-Four” vocalled impressively again by Ian Ball.
Aimee Mann then sang “Lovely Rita”, and cool to see Robin in particular very animated and clearly having a great time!
“Good Morning Good Morning” saw Robin take the lead vocal, and the song worked pretty well though some of the sound effects were pretty loud.
Robin also vocalled the “Sgt Pepper Reprise”, and then a fantastic “Day in the Life” which rounded off a wonderful recreation of the Sergeant Pepper album by all of the artists, musicians and orchestra.
The set ended at 10.30pm with the main artists leaving the stage, but they soon returned, with Rick asking “Do you want to hear one more?” The final song of the evening was a rousing “All You Need is Love”, with lead vocals shared by all of the singers, and including the famous “She Loves You Yeah Yeah Yeah” line towards the end. The show finished at 10.36pm and I think the crowd realised that they had witnessed a stunning event. The show had been amazing, and the various musicians and vocalists had performed wonderfully, as had the orchestra. I believe many may have been a little nervous to start with, but soon relaxed and got into the swing of the event. All of the members of Cheap Trick looked increasingly more comfortable and to be enjoying themselves as the show went on. The other vocalists too looked to be having fun, though Aimee Mann came across as very intense and serious… maybe that’s just her style, I don’t know. I preferred Joan Osborne’s lighter vibe, and she visibly looked to be enjoying the whole thing.
I fought my way through the crowd (very slowly) to go help with the post show sales of CT merchandise. That took a while to finish up, count-in and pack everything, and I was pleased to finally get to bed around 12.45pm.
Please note: All of the other pictures on this page were taken by me, and I'm afraid I just couldn't get any good, close stage shots. However, these next 4 pictures were taken by Kristy Duncan, and she retains copyright. More of her wonderful set of shots can be seen at http://www.flickr.com/photos/k-dj/sets/72157601425067402/ and thanks to her for allowing me to use these pictures within this review.
Saturday 11th August 2007 – Sgt Pepper at 40 show #2
Another hot, sunny Los Angeles Day, and despite the late night I didn’t sleep great and awoke early.
I was back at the Bowl mid afternoon to help set up CT merchandise again, and I should have mentioned the limited edition event t-shirts and numbered lithographs we had for sale. The design was a nice take on the Sgt Pepper sleeve artwork, together with a Beatles-esque CT logo (and a few are still available through the store at www.cheaptrick.com). There was no soundcheck today, certainly nothing was to be heard from 4pm onwards.
Today was similar to yesterday in many ways. I’ve described the venue already, and the setlist and CT fashion report was mostly the same as yesterday too, so please do refer back above to those. However, Tom started this evening wearing black pants, a pale shirt and grey jacket.
The lights dimmed at 8.37pm tonight, with Edwin Outwater walking out at 8.38pm, again dressed in white shirt and blue jeans. The show again started up with the American National anthem, followed by the 4-5 minute Beatles medley. Something I noticed tonight, which may well have happened last night too, was that the cello players were twirling their instruments at times during the medley, obviously having fun!
Cheap Trick then came on to perform “Magical Mystery Tour”, after which Edwin introduced them like last night. He added that “Forty Years ago Sergeant Pepper was released to a public who could not believe what they were hearing”, and that John Lennon had said that he was “tired of making soft music for soft people”. Gomez singer Ian Ball was introduced as being from Liverpool, and sang “Strawberry Fields”. Towards the end, Ian went and stood beside Robin behind Rick’s low backline, and put his hat onto Robin’s head!
Joan Osborne came on to sing “Lady Madonna” and “”The Long and Winding Road”, but I must admit that my attention was somewhat distracted by several people chatting during these and later songs. Most annoying. With typical British reserve, I just kept turning and staring back at the culprits rather than saying anything – the last thing I wanted to do was get into a stupid argument. But why come to a concert like this if you’re just going to chat? Sheesh. OK, rant over!
Next on was Rob Laufer, who introduced “Norwegian Wood” in the same way as last night. Nice song.
Aimee Mann was then led onto the stage by Robin, who’d shed his checked jacket, and she started off with “I just want to say that Cheap Trick is the greatest band in the world!” Thanks Aimee, I suspect many readers would agree with you! She then sang “Blackbird”, and the orchestra followed with a vocal-less “Eleanor Rigby”.
Cheap Trick then returned, with Rick noting “I think we know all of you… and if we don’t… Hi!” He continued that “We’ve had a lot of fun and rehearsing… I prefer fun to rehearsing!” He said that the next song was a heavy one, and introduced Al Jourgensen and Sin from Ministry. Al made a subtle entrance, with the greeting “What’s up old people? All the rich people love Ministry” before turning and saying “Take it away Bun E”. It was “I Want You (She’s So Heavy”) with Al on lead vox and including Rick on backing vocals. Towards the end Al threw his guitar towards side stage, but it fell short of the tech and hit the floor pretty heavily. That may be a guitar that won’t see stage action again. At the end Al shouted “Thank you, Budokan! Thank you Hollywood Bowl, you’ve been great!” The set was closed with the wonderful “Golden Slumbers/Carry That weight/The End” medley, finishing at 9.23pm.
Tonight’s performance was every bit as sharp as last nights, but from early on it was evident that the artists were much more relaxed, comfortable and confident. They visibly looked happier and enjoying this a little more (if that was possible) than last night. This continued to be the case in the second set, with those doing backing vocals dancing around, smiling, making more gestures and generally seen to be having a ball!
The lights dimmed at 9.47pm, with Edwin Outwater and Cheap Trick taking to the stage a couple of minutes later. Very cool to see Edwin now wearing a black CT logo/”On Tour Since 1974” t-shirt! Rick was again now wearing a pink suit, and held up his new custom Beatles Sgt Pepper guitar to the crowd. Robin had changed into the same outfit as for last nights second set, whilst Tom was now wearing the cream Nehru jacket.
The Sgt Pepper setlist of course followed the album listing, with Robin singing the title track and then “With a Little Help From My Friends” before Joan Osborne sang “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”.
Robin vocalled “Getting Better” followed by Aimee Mann leading on “Fixing a Hole”. And as mentioned a little earlier, it was cool to see the vocalists at the backing vox microphones (behind Rick) having a great time during this set.
Rick made a light-hearted show of dejectedly trooping off stage at the end of “Fixing a Hole”, but was quickly back on (sans guitar) to help backing vocal on “She’s Leaving Home”. As last night, Ian Ball also did some of the backing whilst Robin sang lead, and this really was spine chilling. During this, Bun and Tom could be seen in the shadows in front of the orchestra riser.
Ian Ball vocalled “Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite!” during which the Indian ensemble quietly crept on at stage left and took their positions for the next song. Rob Laufer started “Within You Without You” seated on a stool, and Aimee Mann and Joan Osborne could be seen behind, perched at the front of the orchestra riser. Again, this one brought goosebumps, at least for me. As some artists returned to the stage at the end, Rick could be seen bowing (“we are not worthy”) to the Indian ensemble, and Bun E’s drumhead was briefly shown on the big screens.
Iam Ball sang “When I’m Sixty-Four” with Robin, Rick and Rob Laufer providing backing vox, and towards the end Rick said something to Ian making him laugh and miss part of a line. The backing vocalists applauded Ian at the end of the song.
Aimee Mann stepped up to sing “Lovely Rita”, with Robin visibly having a great time in the backing vocal ensemble! Robin then returned to centre stage to sing “Good Morning Good Morning” which worked better tonight, followed by “Sgt Pepper reprise” and “A Day in the Life” which saw all the other vocalists backing.
At the end the artists got a rapturous standing ovation from the capacity crowd, and when they returned we heard Rick’s familiar “Does that mean you want to hear some more? Are you SURE you want to hear some more? OK!” The vocalists all came to front stage, including Al Jourgensen and Sin, neither of whom took part in the encore last night as I recall. Al again won ageing hearts and minds by saying “Dammit you old people, give it up!” before the musicians launched into “All You Need is Love”. Robin even kissed Al on the cheek during the song, there was a lot of love being shared around! Lit up mobile phones could be seen waved in the air throughout the large crowd, and it was a wonderful ending to a sensational second night. As the artists again took applause, Robin gave orchids to both Aimee Mann and Joan Osborne, and Tom lay his bass down at front stage before leaving.
The show had ended at 10.39pm, so it was back to merchandise and a couple of busy hours selling and then packing up. It had all been fun but I was happy to eventually get to bed at 1.45am.
And so ended two memorable nights in one of the worlds legendary music venues. The weather had co-operated, the crowds had turned up in force, and all of the musicians had performed magnificently together to recreate some of the seminal music of the past 40 years. It had been a privilege to have been there to witness these shows, and wonderful as always to see many good friends there.
(addition 12 Sept 2007)
Sunday 12th – Monday 13th August
All good things have to come to an end, and this had indeed been a short but busy weekend. Sunday morning saw Patricia and I leave the hotel at 9.20am to drive back to Los Angeles Airport. We stopped briefly at the Hollywood Rockwalk of Fame, but it was of course shut, and a roller fence prevented us from having a good view of CT’s handprints near the entrance door. Dropped off the rental car at 10.30am and then to our respective terminals to check-in. Terminal 2 for Northwest Airlines was a zoo as always, and it was a combination of luck and good fortune that saw me get through the lines for check-in, baggage security drop-off and personal security vetting in only 30 minutes. That Platinum card sure helps sometimes. My long journey home started with a flight from LAX to Minneapolis, before taking an overnight flight back to Amsterdam and mid afternoon flight to Leeds/Bradford to end this weekend trip. So that had been 40 years of Sergeant Pepper… the next big milestone will be the 30th anniversary of Cheap Trick’s legendary 1978 shows at Budokan! Are you ready to rock? Are you ready or not?
And in THE END…
Kim Gisborne, Leeds England – 17 Aug 2007
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