I have good news for the music lovers out there. Classic Albums Live is exactly what it says on the tin: world-class musicians playing classic rock albums in their entirety, live. At the group’s recent performance of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band at The Music Center at Strathmore, that formula meant a packed house of adoring Beatlemaniacs, young and old.
Now in its tenth year, Classic Albums Live is a Toronto-based touring ensemble that plays a rotating repertoire of classic rock’s greatest hits. One night it’s Led Zeppelin in Schenectady; the next is Pink Floyd in Orlando. Headed by musician and Producer Craig Martin, the performers change night by night, album by album, including local talent drafted for specific purposes – in this case brass and strings for accompaniment. After making their way through the album of the night, the group will often branch out into the rest of a band’s catalog in a more standard concert format. CAL are good at what they do, and the approach they choose highlights the music over the musicians. The concert is just as much a recital as any performance of Bach or Beethoven, with no banter, costumes, impersonations, or distracting theatrics between songs. It makes for a fun night of music.
That’s all the review you need.
But I’m a nitpicker at heart, so I’m going to say that the project isn’t perfect. While The Music Center at Strathmore is a beautiful and acoustically impressive venue, it’s not what you think of for a rock concert. As energetic as the audience might have been, it’s not a club – nobody’s dancing, chatting between sets, or grabbing another drink. And CAL, in their attempt to not disrupt the flow of the album, stay silent through their waterbreaks and readjustments between songs. It may take only ten or fifteen seconds for the band to get ready, but the dead space is practically oppressive. There’s something neat about hearing the album live, but there’s also something to be said for breaking out an LP at home and sitting around with your friends and a bottle or two of wine.
What’s most amazing is the way that the energy of the evening changed after the intermission, when the band delved into the rest of the Beatles’ catalogue. Suddenly, we got to know the performers as musicians. The time between songs was now filled by banter and audience interaction, funny stories about rehearsal, teasing the band-member who started into the wrong song. The audience was more vocal in their appreciation as well, bouyed by the excitement of hoping for favorite songs instead of getting exactly what they expected. And, let’s be frank, Sgt. Pepper isn’t exactly the most cohesive album in The Beatles’ lineup. The second half of the show was better put together, and made better use of the backing musicians. More people sang along. More people danced in their seats. It felt like a rock concert as opposed to a recreation.
So if you’re looking to hear a great album played live, Classic Albums Live has your number. But it’s the followup performance that you should really be excited about. Consider it the rare B-side that’s even better than the single.
Running Time: One hour and 45 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.
Classic Albums Live: The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band played on November 20, 2013 at The Music Center at Strathmore – 5301 Tuckerman Lane, in North Bethesda, MD. For future Classic Albums Live performances, check their website. For future Strathmore events, check their calendar.
Classic Albums Live website.