By Chris Gray
By Corey Deiterman
By Jef With One F
By Chris Gray
By Rocks Off
By Rocks Off
Man, there is a lot going on downtown this weekend. Not only are there a bunch of good shows in the clubs (see elsewhere in this section for details), but it's also the second and final week of the Houston International Festival.
And we will have more on the iFest a little later, but there's one more worthy show going down in the heart of town: a reprise of the Fab 40's stunningly constructed note-for-note re-creation of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
This will be only the second time the huge ensemble has performed it — first was back in October at the Continental Club. The Sunday afternoon show was utterly packed, and attendees were rewarded with what proved to be something far beyond a mere tribute show. Many of the dozens of players wore Sgt. Pepper's-style costumes, and no tone was left unturned in playing as close a facsimile to the record as possible. Indian musicians performed George Harrison's foray into Eastern mysticism "Within You, Without You." A live harpist tickled out the intro to "She's Leaving Home." Horns blasted away on "Good Morning, Good Morning." A quartet of keyboardists banged out the carnival-esque, lysergic whirl of "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite."
For many in attendance, this writer included, the Sunday afternoon show was very much like a religious experience. It was a kid-friendly affair, and several families were three generations deep, singing along, young and old alike with tears in their eyes. I read the news today, oh boy, indeed.
About all that didn't come off well were the crescendo to "A Day in the Life" and the fact that they did not have a live rooster crowing on cue for the intro to "Good Morning."
This time around, the show will be at brand-spanking-new park Discovery Green, and bassist-singer David Blassingame says the performance will be even more fleshed out. For one thing, it will have better sound, he says, thanks to fancier gear. Also, as was the case last time around, Blassingame, drummer Steve Candelari, guitarists Ryan Guidry, Chase Hamblen and Jon Townshend, percussionist Alison Zollars and keyboardists Stephen Arthur and Steve Callahan comprise the core band, but Blassingame says there are even more extra players adding oomph where needed.
"People are calling us to be in this show — orchestra-type people, strings and brass guys," he says. "So we've got a much bigger group than last time. I think we are maybe up to about 43." That's up from around 30 last time around. Blassingame says this is pretty much as big as it can get, and he's had to turn some would-be Fab 40s away.
The transcendent "Day in the Life" crescendo on the record was produced by 40 musicians overdubbed in four layers. Blassingame thinks they might have enough people to pull it off live convincingly this time. (At the Continental show, it was so feeble it was funny — an anticlimactic climax.) "I think we are up to about 15 string players and eight brass players," he says.
Last time around, since they knew then that they didn't have what they needed on that crescendo, the show ended not with "A Day in the Life" but with a "bonus track" — "All You Need Is Love." Blassingame promises to keep that song in the set-list, plus more. "We're gonna do multiple bonus cuts. We're gonna do 'All You Need Is Love' again, plus we're gonna do 'Hey Jude.' And if the crowd is still there and they haven't kicked us out, we may go into some other Beatle rocker numbers."
Expect to be amazed by this ensemble's rendition of "Hey Jude," thanks to Bruce Jameson's horn section. "He's normally the drummer for Beetle, but he also plays alto sax and coordinates the brass for us, and this time it's a much bigger group," Blassingame says. "In fact, the other day we did a run-through of everything and I think everybody got chill-bumps when we got to where the strings and the brass come in on the 'Na-na-na-naaah.'"
Blassingame says early arrivers are also in for some cool tunes. Indian musicians will jam raga-style with special surprise twists into Beatle melodies, and Blassingame says violinist Vanessa Vera — the concertmistress of the string section of this orchestra — will perform a "fantasy on 'Eleanor Rigby.'" "It's very interesting," says Blassingame. "A sort of modern adaptation of the song, very dramatic."
As if hearing Sgt. Pepper's played live on a spring night in the shadow of the skyline doesn't offer enough of a touchy-feely prospect, the whole concert is sponsored by the Houston Musicians Benevolent Society and will be held in honor of the late Rory Miggins. Have any two entities done more to help Houston musicians than Miggins, whose willingness to lend a helping hand was legendary, and the H.M.B.S.?
"We're all musicians and we've all known somebody that's been down and out, and we like the idea of helping people out, especially people we knew who were geniuses but just had so many problems," says Blassingame of the Benevolent Society.