Gimmick of playing contempo songs as if they were written in the ’50s and pre-Beatles ’60s has carried Big Daddy through 10 years and three Rhino Records albums. This year is also the 25th anniversary of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Band’s fourth album, just released, is their magnum opus: “Sgt. Pepper” in toto, Big Daddy style.
Opening with title cut in a Coasters-style arrangement and closing with “A Day in the Life” as it might have been sung by Buddy Holly, nervy and versatile band played entire album live–something the Beatles never did–at Santa Monica venue At My Place on Wednesday night.
Backing the group on several songs were a number of string and horn players and backup singers Roberta Wall and Joanne Kurman-Montana.
Highlights included Bob Wayne’s version of “Fixing a Hole” as by Paul Anka, and two numbers by Don Lee: George Harrison’s hippie faux-Indian “Within You Without You” as a piece of ’50s beat poetry, and the most obviously choice for a single, “When I’m 64” in a particularly apt arrangement swiped from the Dominoes’ “60 Minute Man.”
Big Daddy’s strength is in group’s vocals–Donny Raymond does a wonderful Johnny Mathis and a gritty Dion–and group harmonies, though instrumental work on guitars, synthesizer, saxophone and drums is more than adequate to the task.
Side benefit of singers’ excellent diction and the stripped-down arrangements is that in many cases even fans of the contempo tunes can hear the lyrics straight for the first time.
Set ran 40 minutes, about same length as the album. Encore segment included several of Big Daddy’s previous recordings, including Rick James’ “Super Freak” as an Everly Bros. ballad, an Eddie Cochranized version of Van Halen’s “Jump,” a very successful Chuck Berry-style reading of Vanilla Ice’s “Ice, Ice Baby,” and a version of Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel” that was apparently supposed to remind listeners of Huey Smith and the Clowns but sounded more like Bill Haley and the Comets.