The Act You’ve Known for All These Years (sort of)

20 Oct

Tributosaurus becomes a tribute band for a different band every month.  One rehearsal, one performance, completely transformed (at least musically–they don’t dress up).  When they got to the Beatles, they realized they couldn’t just do one night, so they resolved to do an album (or two) every six months, in release order.

Last night was Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour.  I’d heard about the show, but in my usual style, had completely neglected to do anything about it.  But then my buddy Jen said she had an extra ticket and next thing I know, I’m putting on my hippie tunic and John Lennon hat and heading down into the city*.

My geek flag was flying pretty high at that point, and when Terri Hemmert came on to introduce the band, I was pretty stoked.  They had about a 20 piece string section stage right, including a harpist, and another 20 piece horn section stage left.  In the back, their Foley artist sat surrounded by laptops, ready to provide rooster crows, crowd noise, and excerpts from King Lear.  They referred to him as their George Martin, although I think Geoff Emerick would have been more approriate.  🙂  They also hauled out a quintet of Indian instruments, which they played themselves.  Although I’m getting ahead of myself.

I’ve listened to a lot of Beatles music in my day, but every once in a while I’ll have an experience that will help me appreciate it in a new way.  Oddly enough, Beatles Rock Band did that.  By playing along, even in a simplifed way, to the different instrument parts, I became more aware of how they worked together.  Seeing this live performance gave me some new insights, too.  While it wasn’t perfect (they probably should have rehearsed some parts a wee bit more…it’s a pretty complicated show for one rehearsal, no matter what their gimmick), it was pretty incredible hearing the songs live.

They got off to a bit of a rough start after jamming out the title track of Sgt. Pepper’s.  I think the sound guy was still getting the feel of the new space (the Copernicus Center on Lawrence, a former vaudeville theatre and one of the first places to show talkies in Chicago) and the complicated instrumentation, so the mics were a little hot, and I wasn’t sure the band could always hear themselves.  And their drummer accidently skipped a verse in “A Little Help From My Friends.”  But the facility with which they rolled with it really showed how skilled they are as musicians, and how well they know each other (they’ve been doing this for 11 years).

It was odd to hear a live set of these records I’ve listened to so many times, especially Sgt. Pepper’s, since the tracks flow into each other so smoothly.  At the end of one song, my brain would immediately start playing the next song on the record, even though the band would often have to stop and set things up (like pulling out the sitar and other instruments for “Within You Without You.”  But they joked about it–we all were doing that.  And they did the important transitions without stopping, like “Sargeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” right into “A Little Help From My Friends” and “Good Morning” flowed directly into the Sgt. Pepper reprise and “A Day in the Life.”  (And of course the “wouldn’t want it any other way” loop which George/Geoff played during our applause).  Things were a little smoother for MMT, of course, since the songs weren’t quite as complicated technically.

My favorites were the John songs, and not just because I’m a little biased.  While the Paul tunes were fun and catchy (we had a great singalong to “When I’m Sixty Four”–but that’s the point.  Paul’s songs are crowd pleasers, and good ones), the John songs were layered, complicated, and undeniably powerful.  I’d heard tribute bands play some of these songs, but with the larger orchestra, it really came to life what John put together.  “A Day in the Life,” “I Am the Walrus,” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” were like someone dropped a bomb in the middle of the set. They just took over the entire stage, the entire theatre.  (And Terri Hemmert saying “Cranberry Sauce,” and then “I buried Paul,” at the end of “Strawberry Fields” was a super Beatle-geek moment).

Even “Baby You’re a Rich Man” took on nuances I hadn’t noticed.  The falsetto lyrics about how great it is to be rich contrasted with the deep “what do you want to be?” questions at the end in a way I hadn’t noticed before.  I could totally see John asking someone, giving them that soul-piercing stare while he waited for their answer.

And, of course, we ended with “All You Need is Love.”  I stood up, which was a bit of a chance to take, since we only had a few people standing in the theatre.  I felt really stupid there for a second, swaying my arms all by myself.  Because the only thing worse than being the only person standing in the theatre is then sitting back down.  Fortunately, my seat-mate Keira soon joined me and by the end we were all standing and dancing and swaying.

It was really wonderful to share the nerdery, and see how this truly transcendental music still holds up, nearly 50 years after its release.  They’re doing the White Album next.

For more information about Tributosaurus, you can visit their web site, and sign up for email alerts about upcoming concerts.  On New Year’s Eve, they’re going to do the “Red Album,” the first volume of the two Greatest Hits records (you know, the one with the picture from Please Please Me of them looking down from the balcony on the first one, all clean cut, and then the second volume with the same shot but where they have long hair and beards?)

*I’m so not a city person.  I know that makes me shallow, that I like the wide expanse and ample parking of the soulless suburbs, but as character flaws go, it’s not too bad.  It’s not like I kick puppies or vote Republican or anything**.

**Just kidding, Republican friends.  I look forward to your angry comments. 🙂

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