The Beatles’ album “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was the harbinger of the end of the band, since the many recording tricks, odd combinations of instruments and layers of edits could not be reproduced in a live performance by four musicians.
In the 21st century the band could have had that all that on a laptop.
Or with an orchestra.
Vocalist Jean Meilleur and the Jeans and Classic Band returned to Charleston with a concert performance of the “Sergeant Pepper” album and other songs with the West Virginia Symphony and conductor Grant Cooper. The lengthy performance enthused the large crowd that turned out Saturday night at the Maier Foundation Performance Hall at the Clay Center.
After opening with a mixture of songs from various albums, the program ended with the complete performance of the “Sergeant Pepper” album, celebrating the 50th anniversary of its release in June 1967.
The concert began with “Nowhere Man,” pegging its floating, striving melody with a percolating bass line that bounces spryly along. Meilleur sang simply and smoothly.
Trumpeter David Porter led the way on his piccolo trumpet on the magical “Penny Lane.”
“Back in the USSR” featured a guitar solo by David Dunlop that explored the lower and middle ranges of the instrument, a nice contrast to the screaming high range that made the electric guitar a cliché in the 1980s.
“Strawberry Fields Forever” works perfectly for orchestra since the original recording of the song featured one, although it was only on half the song when producer George Martin spliced a take with orchestra together with one just for the band. It remains a perfect song from its earnest melody to the grand warmth of the cellos and basses patrolling the low register while trumpets and keyboard sustain above. Drummer Jeff Christian was spotless on the fills that lead to the chorus.
The word “love” in “All You Need is Love” triggers little outbursts from the accompaniment that propel the song, one delightful turn of phrase after another.
“Yesterday” was my first experience of a string quartet in its backing of the guitars on the original recording. The song lost none of its lyricism or its heartbreak in this performance.
“Tax Man” had the evening’s most interesting harmonies, tall bluesy chords that blister the texture. Meilleur showed the quality of his voice here, a clean, projective instrument, neatly on pitch and flexible in phrasing.
“Hello Goodbye” is a song like a toy train going around a track. It chugs along mirthfully while it keeps circling around onto its nifty chorus.
A beautiful “Let It Be” closed the opening half of the program.
Meilleur joked that the performance of the complete “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” would be just like you were listening to it on your turntable, without the pause to get up and turn the record over.
The title song sounded heraldic with keyboardist Donald Paulton on the lead vocal, while “With a Little Help from My Friends” was charm drenched in orchestral colors.
“Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” has a shift in meter from verse to chorus (three pulses per beat to two) that aptly catches the dizzying flow of the verse and contrasts it to the rock beat of the chorus. Meilleur and ensembles navigated it with dash.
“Getting Better” and “Fixing a Hole” were rock solid.
Harp and cello began “She’s Leaving Home” before strings supported the lyrics as they shifted from the backup singers to Meilleur.
“Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” mixed an off-kilter waltz with melting chromatic swirls in the winds.
Keyboardist Paulton sang the lead on “Within You Without You” with its Indian raga-like melody over a pulsing rock beat. Answering unison melodies from massed winds and strings completed fabric of the piece.
Guitarist and arranger Peter Brennan sang the lead on “When I’m Sixty-Four” capturing its whimsical conversational tone deftly. Clarinetist Bob Turizziani and the basses provided neat support.
The grandly subtle “A Day in the Life” ended the concert before the audience’s ovation drew Meilleur back to sing “Good Night” with the string orchestra as an encore.