Concert review: Classic albums live, the Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

Imperial Theatre event remarkable in a number of ways, in others leaving audience wondering

By Edward John Allen

They weren’t kidding when their website said “Note for note, cut for cut.”

And just like the 48-year-old album itself, that statement has two sides. The music was terrific; this was a “Classic” performance by the talented and versatile 12-piece ensemble with impressive attention to the detail of the complex, multi-layered “Sgt. Pepper” soundscape taking in Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, A Day in the Life and When I’m 64 along the way.

But on the flip-side, what I found odd, and sensed others in the eager, nostalgic Friday night Sarnia crowd did too, was that the band didn’t talk to the audience at all during the entire first half of the show where they played the album.

No introductions, no inter-song anecdotes, no “connection” and left a sense of mild sterility to the performance that didn’t need to be there.

Reverence for this iconic piece of groundbreaking musical history is one thing but I don’t quite see the fast-quipping boys from Merseyside being quite so po-faced about it.

Although a few of the McCartney high notes did defeat them once or twice, the four main singers delivered excellent rich harmonies very close to the original album, each capturing a different aspect of the Beatles vocal sound. The bass player in particular had John Lennon’s nasally sneering vocal down cold. John Lennon once said “Reality leaves a lot to the imagination.” But he wasn’t there on Friday night.

The music the Boys and George Martin the album’s producer created in that Abbey Road studio, and recorded onto a primitive 4-track device for a total cost of around $45k still has an astounding freshness, punch and creativity. The joy of a show like this is similar to meeting up with an old beloved friend. there’s a warmth and familiarity, an instant reconnection with places, smells, romances, embarrassments perhaps that only music seems capable of evoking so well. When you closed your eyes, you were transported.

“Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.” John Lennon.

After the interval it all changed onstage at The Imperial. As if they’d now finished writing a demanding musical exam the band could now kick back, jam and have some fun, dipping into one of music’s finest back-catalogs. The front men chatted, swapped jokes and demonstrated a much appreciated “Beatle nerdom” that the first half missed out on.

Still staying uncannily true to the original recorded songs they blazed their way through a dozen numbers including Lady Madonna, Can’t Buy Me Love, and Carry That Weight, each eaten up by the joyful crowd.

Perhaps the finest solo moments came during the While My Guitar Gently Weeps guitar solo. Ironically that non-Beatle Eric Clapton was never credited for the solo on the original version and here another non-Beatle did a show stopping searing retake of it that had the whole audience in a standing ovation.

Sergeant Peppers poster

As the band loosened up so did the crowd. There was even a little dancing in the aisles, and when in between numbers one guitarist quipped they were tuning up because they didn’t know how much we’d had to drink, the lady next to me with perfect comic timing hollered back “It’s Sarnia, you can tell!”

Back in Edmonton a few years ago a friend justified paying some very lofty price for a ticket to see Paul McCartney perform at Rexall Place by saying “You have to understand this is like getting the chance to see Mozart perform his own music.”

It’s a stretch to dream of Macca on stage at The Imperial, but at last night’s show if you closed your eyes, you had a close second best.

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