Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was a revolution, a miracle of musicmaking and engineering, hovering over the past 40 years the way Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony did over the 19th century. It was once thought that this was music that could not be performed outside a recording studio — the Beatles themselves approached it that way — and that the idea of presenting it live was an oxymoron. On-the-spot musical and technical skills have sharpened since 1967, and while Beatleologists will no doubt pick away with glee at occasional stray details, the cast pulled it off the re-creation with dignity, authenticity and restraint.
Edwin Outwater and the Bowl Orchestra wisely kept their cotton-pickin’ hands off the material when they weren’t needed, while Aimee Mann, Rob Laufer, Ian Ball and Joan Osborne took turns on some of the lead vocals with varying degrees of effectiveness. The attention to detail was remarkable, even to the point of including the nonsense vocal noises after “A Day in the Life.”
Of course, it wasn’t the same thing as having the Beatles suddenly materialize from the ether onto the stage where they once drove thousands of middle-class girls into screaming fits. What one most missed was the sense of fun that the original album still generates. The Beatles broke ground with every twirl of the tape reels, yet they were also having a ball flinging their talent all over the studio. These musicians seemed to be merely working hard from received memory.
Yet there was one key song, “Within You, Without You,” where magic undeniably took hold. A six-piece Indian ensemble brilliantly reconstructed the instrumental breaks and Laufer, who long ago portrayed Harrison in “Beatlemania,” produced a more-than-acceptable impression of George. It was spellbinding, spine-tingling, proof that you can catch lightning now and then when re-creating the past.
The first half was a collection of Beatles tunes to introduce the players — best when the soul-savvy Osborne explored the R&B implications of “Lady Madonna;” worst when Ministry’s Al Jourgensen made a howling, ghoulish mess of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).”
The encore to “Sgt. Pepper” could only be “All You Need Is Love,” again with almost every fiber of detail in place.