Having a musical revelation is an extraordinary thing. And this weekend — despite feeling that I spent most of it watching World Cup matches and drinking beer at Redlight Redlight — yielded not just one revelation, but two.
The first revelation was something of a mindblower: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is an amazing album. I know, I know, I know. Like, who doesn't freaking understand that basic tenet of contemporary music?
Honestly? Not many people. It's become a generally accepted fact that Sgt. Pepper's is a Great Album That Is Very Important. It always tops those Best Things Ever To Exist lists and is so often used as a cultural touchstone that it's impossible not to acknowledge it. In fact, it's the sheer ease with which this wisdom is accepted that makes Sgt. Pepper's misunderstood by so many people.
Myself included. Having been bludgeoned with the demand that — as a musical connoisseur — I must worship this album, the stubborn contrarian in me has always viewed it somewhat skeptically. Plus, since it's become so damn ubiquitous, it's hard to really hear the album because of its instant familiarity. When faced with either blindly accepting that Sgt. Pepper's is the pinnacle of contemporary pop music or blithely dismissing it in favor of Smile/Exile on Main Street/an out-of-print Supersister record, I've fallen firmly in the latter camp, acknowledging the album's importance while hedging on its perfection.
A performance of the album — in sequence, note-for-note — Friday (June 16) at the Hard Rock Live by the Classsic Albums Live group (along with the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra) changed all that for me. It was the "35th Anniversary Gala" for Hard Rock Cafe, and though a more reasonably priced performance would sell out the venue on the next night, those tickets didn't include dinner. Free champagne and food can do a lot to lubricate my critical faculties, but I have to say, the show was amazing, even though it wasn't much of a show. After all, the whole point of these Classic Albums Live presentations is for the players to be exceedingly competent and completely anonymous, so they have less a cover-band vibe than the air of a recital.
Yes, technically, the musicians are a cover band, but not the sort of cover band that either 1) imitates the act they're covering via costumes and corny stage moves, or 2) attempts to use another band's material as a springboard for their own (limited) musical inspirations. CAL instead treats the works of Zeppelin, the Beatles and the Stones much like the Philharmonic treats Haydn or Mozart or Beethoven, and the effect is often equally goosebump-inducing. You may have heard a piece of music a billion times, but until you've heard it performed live and with exceptional facility, you haven't really heard it.
And that's the experience I had with Sgt. Pepper's. Watching the weird combinations of instruments being played at any given moment made it clear how unusual most of the album's arrangements really are. Weirder still, the strangest arrangements tended to be for the more straightforward-sounding songs: "Within You Without You" has always been among my top three Beatles songs, due to how sophisticated and atypical it sounds nestled among other Beatles tracks. Yet when the whole album was reproduced live, it was previously loathsome cuts like the disposable-sounding "Fixing a Hole" and "When I'm Sixty-Four" that wound up being built of the most unexpected parts.
So, while I still prefer Revolver and Abbey Road (and Exile on Main Street) to Sgt. Pepper's, the experience of watching the album performed live was unforgettable. Not because it was "like seeing The Beatles," but because it was finally an opportunity to hear — in a completely new way — music I thought I had heard a bajillion times before.
The other revelation
The Prince comparisons that Jamie Lidell keeps receiving, alas, were proven false. Anyone who could compare Lidell's concert persona to Prince has clearly never seen Prince live. (A few songs in falsetto and an occasional hip=shake do not a New Prince make, kids.)
That's not to say that Lidell's show Friday at The Social wasn't incredible; it was. His friction-funk weeble-wobbled between inverted house music and IDM madness, while his smoking jacket—clad self proved most capable of simultaneously twiddling knobs and crooning like a cross between Donny Hathaway, Otis Redding and Rick Astley. But until Lidell removes the wink of irony from his persona and busts out the no-nonsense grooves I could sense he wants to, he'll never even get close to Prince's firstname.lastname@example.org
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