On Friday and Saturday, February 3 and 4, Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor is presenting a very special musical celebration of The Beatles’ album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The groundbreaking Sgt. Pepper’s, considered by many to be the highest achievement of the rock era, will be performed live from start to finish. Get set to hear such radio staples as “With a Little Help From My Friends,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “A Day in the Life,” as well as less frequently heard classics like “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” and “Good Morning, Good Morning,” all played live.
Sag Harbor’s own Joe Lauro, who is co-producing the shows with Bay Street’s Gary Hygom, feels that the timing couldn’t be better. “It’s coming on the 50th anniversary of Sgt. Pepper’s release, and it’s the winter so there’s room in the Bay Street schedule for this kind of thing.” Lauro, who will play bass on the shows, assembled a band including members of the HooDoo Loungers, Mamalee Rose and Friends, and local sidemen—including a four-person horn section. “They are all stellar musicians, and Michael Schiano (guitarist and musical director for the shows) has been great at capturing the right sounds.”
For Schiano, that means following The Beatles’ own arrangements. “Their arrangements are really smart,” he says. “I didn’t actually know how well they would work live, but we’ve discovered in rehearsal that they’re surprisingly reproducible.”
There might have been some fear and trepidation going into rehearsals because of the mystique surrounding this legendary album. In 1967, The Beatles decided, for various reasons, to stop performing live. So when they embarked on recording what became Sgt. Pepper’s, they felt an increased freedom to compose and arrange songs in ways that they wouldn’t be able to reproduce live—they no longer had to worry about performing the songs. “The Beatles themselves never played songs from Sgt. Pepper’s live,” Lauro points out. With this new freedom, and with the aid of their own miraculous talent, they were able to create a diversity of sonic landscapes over the course of the record’s 13 songs. Think of the trippy “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” with its almost completely different instrumentation between verse and chorus. Or “Fixing a Hole,” which is accompanied mainly on the harpsichord. Later, “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” brilliantly succeeds in conjuring a circus atmosphere.
All of this might have made it impossible for The Beatles to recreate Sgt. Pepper’s live, but, as Schiano points out, a lot has changed in 50 years, as musical technology goes. “Technology has progressed so much that you have these precise sounds at your fingertips,” he says. He was even able to locate the animal sounds that pervade the ending of “Good Morning, Good Morning,” and for the show those sounds will be triggered by keyboardist Fred Gilde. “I think people will have a lot of fun having this record reproduced for them live,” says Schiano.
Adding to the fun will be the staging and lighting design—both created by Hygom —elements of Bay Street shows that make concerts there unique on the East End. While he and Lauro toyed with the idea of having the band wear the candy-colored uniforms worn by The Beatles on Sgt. Pepper’s famous album cover, they thought better of it. “Remember, The Beatles were in their 20s when they made Sgt. Pepper’s,” says Lauro. “They could pull off those costumes—but not us.” Instead, the stage will be set up to suggest a Sgt. Pepper’s-era recording session.
So take this opportunity to hear a groundbreaking record recreated in person. A splendid time is guaranteed for all.
Sgt. Pepper’s comes to Bay Street Theater on Friday and Saturday, February 3 and 4 at 8 p.m. 1 Bay Street, Sag Harbor. For $30 advance tickets visit baystreet.org or call 631-725-9500. These concerts are likely to sell out.