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Guaranteed to raise a smile: Rock singers and string orchestra re-imagine ‘Sgt. Pepper’

Brooklyn Daily
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They hope you will enjoy the show.

Canadian string ticklers The Art of Time Ensemble and four ’90s rock singers will put their spin on the seminal Beatles album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” at Brooklyn College on Nov. 21. The show’s artistic director had composers re-arrange — often drastically — the music, but one aspect had to remain true to the original, one vocalist said.

“The one catch was he wanted to keep the vocal arrangements the same,” said Steven Page, founder of Canadian rock band Barenaked Ladies and one of the show’s singers. “The vocals and those melodies are so important that he kept those.”

But don’t expect Page and fellow bellowers to show up in mop-top wigs and Chelsea boots like common tributeers.

“It’s not the same guy singing all of Paul’s songs or whatever like those Beatles cover shows,” Page said.

Instead, director Andrew Burashko assigned the lead singers for each song and let the others hash out backup vocal duties — which led to a little friendly conflict, Page said.

“Craig [Northey, of Canadian alt-rock band Odds] and I still argue over who sings the ‘ahh’ at the beginning of ‘Lovely Rita’ — usually we both sing it.”

The singers are far from Nowhere Men — joining Page and Northey are Glen Phillips of ’90s alt-darlings Toad the Wet Sprocket and Andy Maize from Canada’s second-most-famous roots rock band Skydiggers.

It was 48 years ago Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play, but this band has taken some liberties in the time since — composers changed the meter in “Fixing a Hole” from a swing tune to a waltz, Page said. And a B-side the ensemble will play is nearly unrecognizable — but it’s nothing to get hung about, he said.

“A lot of them really diverge. In the arrangement of ‘Strawberry Fields,’ it’s hard to find where the pulse is,” Page said of the tune recorded during the Sgt. Pepper sessions but released as a single. “It feels like there’s no time, and so when the vocals come in, they float over the top. But because those vocals are so recognizable, it works perfectly.”

Beatles fanatics should pay close attention — the show is peppered with Easter eggs, Page said.

“The different arrangers tried to hide references to other Beatles songs inside of their arrangements, and some of them are quite amazing — like how many little winks and nods are all over the place.”

The massive final chord to “A Day in the Life” — whose voicing is hotly debated among fans and musicologists — figures into many of the songs, he said. But when it came time for composer Rob Carli to arrange the reverb-drenched piano-and-bass chord, he opted for a lilting legato passage rather than one giant hit, Page said. The decision to re-interpret rather than regurgitate one of rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest masterpieces is a microcosm for the entire show, he said.

“It kinda feels exactly right, because it’s not so contrary that it refuses to play the chord, but it’s also not a cover version — it’s its own version,” Page said.

The Art of Time Ensemble presents “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” at the Brooklyn College Walt Whitman Theater [2900 Avenue H at Campus Road in Flatbush, (718) 951–4500, www.brooklyncenter.org]. Nov. 21 at 8 pm. $30.

Updated 5:47 pm, July 9, 2018
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