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Reviewed: Cheap Trick Perform Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club band at the Waldorf Astoria

Cheap Trick started life, as so many bands have done before them, as Beatles fans par excellence though lead vocalist Robin Zander has always seemed mentored by McCartney as opposed to Lennon. Macca’s instincts were all much more melodic than Lennon’s and Cheap Trick were always the poppiest of hard rock bands so it kinda makes sense.
Perhaps because of this the DVD of Cheap Trick’s live performance of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band doesn’t take off till the encore, a splendid version of “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End”. I am not a McCartney hater, I am, indeed, a huge McCartney fan, but his songwriting on Abbey Road is vastly superior to his work on Pepper. At the heart of Side One of Pepper is the McCartney triology “Getting Better,” “Fixin’ A Hole” and the moribund “She’s Living Home” -“Better” and “Hole” are OK but minor Macca so for all of Zanders abilities there is not much to be done with it. Both of Lennon’s songs on side one are crap and that leaves the title track and the overcovered “With A Little Help From My Friends. “
This is a big problem for Cheap Trick on the first half of the set. With only Zander singing at this point, the vocals lack the shading of having three lead singers and the blandness of the material (it’s all sort of avant-pop and silly) doesn’t help. The first half would be disastrous only lead guitarist Rick Nielsen is superb: easily the best thing on the DVD, all his leads are highly melodic blocks and he carries the band all the way through it.
If it wasn’t for “Good Morning, Good Morning” and “A Day In The Life”, Side Two has the potential to be the single worst moment in the Beatles career and the Cheap Trick set doesn’t crackle till we reach there. Joan Osbourne singing “Lovely Rita” is a cute idea and harmless enough and Ian Ball of Gomez very strangely sounding like a Yank faking an English accent is completely besides the point on “When i’m 64”. “Within You, Without You” is not half the song “Love you Too” is and the sitar ensemble is wasted.
Nothing is wasted on the sets superbs ending. “A Day In The Life,” with the New York Philharmonica violinists, maybe ten of them, performing the crazed crashing rush at the end of the song countering Zanders elongated “turn you oooooooooooon” motif. And it is followed with a glorious “Golden Slumber” -this is the Beatle song Zanders was born to sing and he gets all of the melody and the orchestra behind him is lush and beautiful. Just awesome.
I sound a little more negative about Cheap Tricks performance than I feel. For one thing, it was a benefit in aid of prostrate cancer. For another, it wasn’t an attempt to BE THE BEATLES, if it wasn’t a rethinking of Sgt. Pepper’s at least it wasn’t an impersonation. Zander is a real rock singer (though he wasn’t playing rhythm guitar this night) and Nielsen is a great guitarist. And though the rhythm section weren’t likely to shine on Pepper, Cheap Trick’s only real mistake was choosing the wrong Beatle album to play

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