Cheap Trick salutes "Sgt. Pepper" with heart and soul

Robin Zander sings \
  • Robin Zander sings "I Want You To Want Me" at the post-show jam.

The show belonged to Robin Zander, the Cheap Trick lead singer who resides in Safety Harbor. Dressed in a military-style jacket, his head topped with a oversized white police-type hat, he covered all the lead vocal parts: McCartney's rasp and croon, Lennon's sneer, even Ringo on "With a Little Help from My Friends." He didn't mimic the voices as much as re-create the spirit.

The ensemble took a few brief, between-song breaks, but that didn't slow their momentum.

There was probably considerable post-show discussion about which Pepper songs the band best rendered. Here are mine:

Song 4, "Getting Better." It's one of The Beatles most underheralded songs, and Cheap Trick swallowed it whole, with vibrant vocal harmonies and that familiar ringing rhythm guitar (by Rick Nielsen).

Song 6, "She's Leaving Home." Zander, backed only by strings, owned the song, hitting all of McCartney's high notes, remarkable for a 55-year-old. He not only executed the material, he dug deep and felt it. The audience responded with awe-struck applause.

Song 11, "Good Morning Good Morning." It's a Pepper song that doesn't get as much attention as some of the others, but it's a rock burner and Cheap Trick killed it. The horns added just the right extra bit of heft.

This is not to diminish the performances of the rest of the tunes, which were uniformly good. (Even though Donovan, guest vocalist on "Within You Without You," struggled to synch with the orchestra, overall the tune retained its exotic, mesmerizing air.)

Actually, one song came up a tad short:

The album-closing epic "A Day in the Life" was played at a too fast a tempo, rushed even; there wasn't enough textural contrast between Lennon's opening part and McCartney's middle section. And ... the ascending orchestral crescendo had to fight to be heard amid the rock band, losing much of its drama.

But hey, file all that under nitpicking.

Cheap Trick encored with part of the medley from Abbey Road ("You Never Give Me Your Money," "Golden Slumbers," "Carry That Weight" et al) with terrific aplomb.

But I thought the encore was a missed opportunity. There's talk of Cheap Trick taking the Pepper show on the road. A perfect conclusion would be the double shot of "Strawberry Fields" and "Penny Lane," both of which were recorded during the Pepper sessions and were major hits. Tack those two classics on the end of the show and the audience will leave even happier than it did last night.

After the concert, VIPs and folks willing to pony up a couple hundred bucks attended a jam/auction in Eckerd's Heye Great Room. Proceeds went to the Chi Chi Rodriguez Youth Foundation. Backed by a a group called the John Entwhistle Foundation Band, Zander and Nielsen popped onto the stage to perform "I Want You to Want Me" and "Surrender."

Emcee Tom Gribbon auctioned off the guitar Nielsen was playing. A guy standing next to me won with a bid of $4,000. I asked him how he felt but he just mumbled something and wandered off. He looked stunned.

    Rick Nielsen and Robin Zander perform at a post-show jam. The guitar Nielsen is playing fetched $4,000 in an auction.
  • Rick Nielsen and Robin Zander perform at a post-show jam. The guitar Nielsen is playing fetched $4,000 in an auction.

Every note, sound and lyric of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is so indelibly imprinted in people's heads that the thought of performing it live must be a little daunting. If that was the case last night at Ruth Eckerd Hall, Cheap Trick did not let on.

They nailed it.

The band had help. A keyboardist and second guitarist augmented the group. Behind them on a riser, 24 members of the Florida Orchestra filled out the sound, playing the string and horn parts with accuracy and feeling. Just for good measure, an Indian sitarist and tabla player came in from Miami specifically for the George Harrison-penned raga "Within You Without You."

The evening opened with some instrumental versions of Beatles songs by the orchestra, which was followed by a brief set by Donovan. The 62-year old Irishman brandished a kelly green acoustic guitar and performed "Catch the Wind," "Sunshine Superman" and "Lalena," followed by heartfelt turns at the Beatles "Dear Prudence" and "Blackbird."

I thought "Hurdy Gurdy Man" would've been a nice choice; it's Donovan's most psychedelic tune, and he could've employed the orchestra for interesting effect.

After an intermission, Cheap Trick and company took the stage and launched into "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" with exuberance and just the right measure of rock ferocity.

About The Author

Eric Snider

Eric Snider is the dean of Bay area music critics. He started in the early 1980s as one of the founding members of Music magazine, a free bi-monthly. He was the pop music critic for the then-St. Petersburg Times from ‘87-’93. Snider was the music critic, arts editor and senior editor of Weekly Planet/Creative...
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