Last year, Glen Burtnick lined up over 40 musicians to perform "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" from beginning to end to celebrate the record's 40th anniversary. This year's challenge was to celebrate the anniversary of the "White Album" - a more straightforward record, but with the added challenge of being a double album and the rarely (if ever) performed "Revolution Number 9."
"This whole Beatles Thing... Someone's got to stop it!" said Glen Burtnick with a laugh. This year's lineup featured Burtnick along with a stellar cast of musicians that include Marshall Crenshaw, Bob Burger and Marc Muller, along with an orchestra led by conductor James Egan, band director at North Brunswick Township High School. Everyone on stage appeared to be having a great time and treated the material with the same respect an orchestra would treat Bach or Mozart.
Every song was done in order and reminded me of two things. First, I had forgotten just how brilliant the album was. And, secondly, I had forgotten that this was one of the few Beatles albums where I thought the sequence of songs were placed in a rather ragged order that emulated anarchy instead of blending songs together into one piece of art. This was the album which revealed the inner workings of the group, one that was literally breaking apart. The songs on this album previewed the solo works to come more than showcased the collaborative genius of prior records.
In fact, one of the evening's highlights for me was "Long Long Long" which gets the prize for best song that radio has ignored through the years. A brilliant piece by Harrison that backs up the argument that Lennon and McCartney were keeping the songs from George down. After hearing this one on the same album as the masterful "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" it's easy to see why he released a triple album as his solo debut. One only can wonder just how many of those tunes were written during the Beatles period.
With so many great songs and so many great performances it's hard to come up with my favorites of the night, but the list definitely includes such numbers as "While My Guitar Gently Sleeps", "Dear Prudence", "Glass Onion", "Bungalow Bill", and "Sexy Sadie". Christine Martucci guested on "Yer Blues" with a rendition that would have made Janis Joplin proud. Joe Hurley, a regular at Glen Burtnick's Xmas Xtravaganza shows, did an impressive take as Ringo on "Don't Pass Me Bye." Tony Shanahan, another Xmas regular, played bass on a few tunes and sang lead on "Mother Nature's Son."
"Blackbird" was truly a song made for Glen Burtnick while Crenshaw's take on "Julia" gave me chills. Bob Burger was the lead for "Honey Pie" and one of my all-time favorites, "Cry Baby Cry" and received loud applause for his efforts.
And, of course, "Helter Skelter" simply rocked! It reminded me why I always wondered why the song is placed so far into the album. It would have been a great kickoff to the album in my opinion. Glen on lead vocals screamed in a way I haven't seen since the "Talking In Code" tour. Crenshaw, who had previously said good night to the crowd after the previous song, couldn't help returning to take a solo during the song.
One of the evening's biggest surprises wasn't the lack of lead vocals by Marshall Crenshaw but the fact that Crenshaw was on drums for roughly 1/4 of the night. Mark Muller and Drew Hill provided wonderful lead vocals for the rest of the numbers.
Glen Burtnick's daughter Sally acted as Yoko Ono and was especially wonderful in her role during "Bungalow Bill."
Many of the songs were enhanced with videos on a screen behind the performers. The videos, a mixture of psychedelic images done in a modern way, were created by a company called Altered Imagines. Highlights included "piggies" - a video that looked like it was created with a computer mouse in one hand and a joint in the other. And an utterly amazing array of images from 1968 kept the audience riveted during the entire performance of "Revolution Number 9." Afterwards, an audience member screamed, "Now play it backwards!" from the balcony.
The conclusion of the double album wasn't enough Beatles for the fans that packed the State Theatre that night. Encores included "Revolution", "Twisted & Shout", "Eight Days A Week", and concluded with "Hey Jude" with Burtnick on piano, just as he was in a photo taken from Beatlemania that once was shown in the Asbury Park Rock 'N Roll Museum.
"You guys seem totally into this, which is cool because it would suck if you weren't" said Burtnick halfway through the show.
Of course we were. We're all Beatles fans. Now and forever. And we're all getting ready for the tribute to "Abbey Road" which hopefully will be one of the highlights of next summer!