More than 60 performers bring Beatles music to life at Laxson
By the time Abbey Road was released in 1969, The Beatles had broken up. The band had not performed a live concert for three years, preferring to pursue their musical and sonic craftsmanship within recording studios under the mentorship of producer and collaborator George Martin, and thus avoided the chaos of shrieking Beatlemaniacs and the unsatisfactory audio output of live-music technology in the pre-stadium rock days. So naturally, many of the band’s admirers have longed for and imagined how those late, great albums—Sgt. Pepper’s, White Album, Abbey Road—might’ve translated live.
Last weekend, for two nights (Feb. 3-4), Chico’s Uncle Dad’s Art Collective brought its own vision of Abbey Road, plus a few of the band’s other late hits, to the Laxson Auditorium stage, and one can only wonder what John, Paul, George and Ringo would have made of the spectacle.
The Uncle Dad’s folks, who’ve proved their mastery of presenting genuinely spectacular renditions of popular hits with their previous tributes to Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Prince’s Purple Rain and Queen’s A Night at the Opera, outdid themselves with the Beatles extravaganza. Staging and costumery were backed by elaborate musical arrangements, performed by the 17-member Uncle Dad’s orchestra, plus several well-chosen guest vocalists and bands from the Chico scene. All that was combined with full Vegas-worthy choreography and acrobatics that transported the Laxson audience to theatrical heights that my 15-year-old brain would have found unimaginable listening to the album on the family hi-fi back in ’69.
Opening number “Come Together” emerged from a surge of thrumming electronic pulsations, the iconic drum beat bringing us into the world of rock ’n’ roll musical theater through which the collective would shepherd us for the rest of the evening as the Uncle Dad’s company vocalists—Jenise Coon, Daun Weiss, Kristin Baugher and Ashiah Scharaga—belted out the lyrics with gospel intensity surrounded by a cloud of dancers. Segueing seamlessly into George Harrison’s gorgeous “Something,” the ensemble earned an enthused round of applause leading into featured vocalist Madeline Matthews’ musical-theater-style rendition of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” performed with apparently unrelated but well-executed choreography by Choreo Chaos, one of the show’s many dance and/or acrobat troupes.
Featured singer Ira Walker’s rendition of “Oh! Darling” followed the original arrangement fairly faithfully, but jettisoned the vocal acrobatics of Paul McCartney, opting instead for a shouted blues approach. Counterbalancing the blues, guest vocalist Erin Lizardo’s rendition of “Octopus’s Garden” was a delight for the young at heart, with fantasy costumes (designed by Lizardo, the show’s costumer) and a gaggle of dancers under wafting seafoam silk.
Also providing contrasts of the yin/yang extreme were John Mahoney’s cocktail-jazz rendition of “Across the Universe,” complete with a stellar horn solo by Rocky Winslow, and the genuine psychedelic rock of local funk band GravyBrain’s “Happiness Is a Warm Gun,” featuring Glenn Tucker’s far out keytar and Brian Asher’s incisive guitar backed by sparkling singers Kai’om Fossum and Katie McConnell.
Opening the second “side” of the concert, musical theater veteran Kelly Houston sang a piano-colored interpretation of “She’s Leaving Home” that illuminated the song’s maudlin bourgeois narrative. Keeping with the show’s presentation of songs that contrasted each other, Kyle Williams’ gorgeous, ukulele-strummed rendition of “Strawberry Fields Forever” managed to project the psychedelicacy of the original in a very folksy and crowd-winning manner.
Following Pat Hull’s charming, country-blues rendition of “Blackbird,” party-rockers The Quasimofos gave Sgt. Pepper’s “A Day in the Life” a turgid treatment that built to a dramatic climax that was perfectly complemented by the brilliant eight-song suite at the end of Abbey Road. And a lineup of Chico all-star vocalists delivered the suite’s tunes, highlighted by Hannah Jane Kile’s “You Never Give Me Your Money,” and singer Evin Wolverton and aerialist Courtney Oosten’s without-a-net interpretation of “Golden Slumbers.”
All in all, the show was a crowd-thrilling extravaganza, proving once again that the Uncle Dad’s Art Collective has tapped into the beating heart of Chico’s middle-class, middle-age theater and music lovers with great insight and marketability. Can’t wait to see what they do next!