Quintet reprises songs of the album the Beatles never played in
By Joe Brown
Tue, Aug 26, 2008 (2 a.m.)
Where were you when you first heard "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club
I was 9 years old the night my dad brought the brand-new album home,
after seeing the Beatles on the cover of Time magazine. Our small
family gathered excitedly around the furniture-sized Magnavox console
and listened to both sides, but I can't remember it being played more
than once after that.
A few years later, I was flipping through the stack of albums and
came across that fascinatingly colorful album cover, with its
psychedelic collage of mysterious characters. I put the needle to the
black vinyl (kids, ask your parents), and my 12-year-old mind was
I still have that now unplayable LP, and "Pepper" has always been
with me — on cassette, CD and now on my iPod, which contains all the
Beatles albums and all the music it opened my young ears to so many
The Beatles never performed "Sgt. Pepper" in concert, but Friday at
Texas Station we'll get the closest thing. Las Vegas is the last stop
on a 10-city tour for a unique tribute event called "It Was Forty
Years Ago Today: A Tribute to the Greatest Album of All Time: `Sgt.
Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band,' " a live presentation of the
epochal album, re-created by an unlikely band of veteran American and
When I'm Sixty-Four
John, Paul, George and Ringo, meet Todd, Denny, Chris and Lou. And Bo.
The re-Fab Five includes Todd Rundgren, 60, a one-man band and record
producer who has recorded faithful solo covers of "Rain"
and "Strawberry Fields Forever," was a consultant on "Beatlemania:
The Movie," and, with his band Utopia, did an album called "Deface
the Music" which was like a lost Beatles album. Rundgren has also
toured several times with Ringo Starr and his All-Stars.
Lou Gramm, 58, formerly lead singer of Foreigner, set his powerful
voice to such '70s radio staples as "Hot Blooded" and "Juke Box
Hero," and is readying a Christian rock album with his Lou Gramm Band.
Denny Laine, 63, guitarist and singer with the Moody Blues, played in
Paul McCartney's band Wings for 10 years and co-wrote the worldwide
hit "Mull of Kintyre."
Christopher Cross, 57, the smooth-voiced king of "yacht rock," is the
only artist to receive all of the Big Four Grammy Awards (best
record, song, album and new artist) in the same year.
Bo Bice, 33, a singer and guitarist, was runner-up to Carrie
Underwood on "American Idol" and has gone on to a solo career as a
"It is kind of a weird group," Bice says with a laugh. "When they
first tapped me for this, I was like, wow, this is a different
lineup. It wasn't like someone was trying to put together the most
Beatles-like group of guys. Instead they picked people that were like
polar opposites and put them together."
Bice gets to sing "With a Little Help From My Friends," "It's Getting
Better" and "Lovely Rita," though each singer has learned all the
songs, in case one of them can't make a show. "Todd could probably
play the whole album all by himself," Bice says.
With a Little Help From My Friends
Critics have always tagged Rundgren with the term "Beatlesque," for
his pop music sweet tooth and ornate production style. Surprisingly
he's more of a "Revolver" man than a "Pepper" fan.
"I was not one of those people who went crazy over `Sgt. Pepper' when
it first came out. Probably because I wasn't taking acid at the
time," he says on the phone, chuckling, before a preshow sound check
in Baltimore. "Whatever else I appreciate about the Beatles, I was
most mystified with their ability to craft pop tunes, and I always
wanted to have some of that skill. The more you play these songs you
realize how sort of whimsical and sometimes silly they are. As a
matter of fact, I get to do the most silly songs on the whole
record," says Rundgren, who sings "Being for the Benefit of Mr.
Kite," and "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" and "Good Morning, Good
Morning" in the tribute show.
A Day in the Life
The whole Lonely Hearts gang has been riding from gig to gig on a
luxurious bus, says Bice, calling from Seven Springs, Pa., where the
tour began. Because the veteran rockers have seen and done and
survived it all, this road show isn't marked by much of the
debauchery of decades past. Bice, whose wife gave birth to their
second son, Caleb, a week before the tour began, says he spends most
of his time updating his blog and keeping in touch with his wife and
two sons on his Apple iChat camera.
"Everybody knows I'm more of a Southern rock guy, but I grew up in
England for five or six years. And their Lynyrd Skynyrd is the
Beatles and the Stones," says Bice, who is perhaps the most unusual
choice for a Beatles salute. "When you sit and listen, you really see
how ahead of the curve the Beatles were. That was the first concept
album. Without that album we might not have had `The Wall' or `Dark
Side of the Moon.' "
It's Getting Better
Rundgren who is about to release "Arena," his first full-length
record of original studio material in four years, says the one-off
group's approach to the "Sgt. Pepper" songs will be "pretty faithful"
to the original recordings.
"All the headliners take turns singing the songs, and we have a five-
piece band, plus a symphonette, which is a seven-piece string quartet
and a harp player and two reed players," Rundgren says. Leading the
band is guitarist Jesse Gress, who dreamed up the tribute; with ex-
Tubes and New Cars drummer Prairie Prince, the Cars' keyboardist Greg
Hawke and John Ferenzik, a guitarist in Rundgren's band. "So we can
pretty much reproduce anything that was done on the record. I think
we make up for the literalness with a little bit of theatricality. I
do all of my songs in some sort of costume. I'm something of a
ringmaster in `Mr. Kite,' and I actually dress up like a flower
in `Lucy in the Sky,' he says, laughing.
"Sgt. Pepper" was released June 1, 1967, so it was really 41 years
ago this summer that the mind-blowing album debuted. Still, "It Was
Forty Years Ago Today" sounds like an event that shouldn't be missed
by any Beatles fan.
Having been some days in preparation, a splendid time is guaranteed
IF YOU GO
What: It Was 40 Years Ago Today: A Tribute to "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely
Hearts Club Band"
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Where: Dallas Events Center at Texas Station in North Las Vegas
Admission: $32.50-$45.50; 631-1000, www.texasstation.com