TORONTO — As a kid in the ’70s, former Barenaked Ladies singer Steven Page remembers strapping on giant Radio Shack headphones, lying on a white shag carpet and incessantly listening to his parents’ mono copy of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Sometimes the headphone jack would dislodge a bit and he’d hear just the reverb or bass guitar, allowing him to identify individual instrumental parts on the tunes that formed what’s widely regarded as one of the greatest and most influential albums of all time.
“That changed the way I looked at music forever, the way I could be able to look at symphonic music or vocal harmonies or whatever else ever since,” the Toronto-bred Page, who’s working on a fourth solo album, said in a recent phone interview.
“Listening to Beatles records . . . .. made me want to make records.”
These days, Page considers himself “a total Beatles nerd” who’s been known to get caught up in such debates as whether Paul McCartney is playing an Epiphone Casino or a Fender Esquire guitar through a Selmer Zodiac on certain tunes.
He’ll get to celebrate that side of himself as he and other artists perform re-invented versions of Sgt. Pepper’s colourful songs — from Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds to With a Little Help From My Friends and A Day in the Life — in three Art of Time Ensemble concerts at Harbourfront Centre’s Enwave Theatre in Toronto.
The first concert is on Thursday, the 45th anniversary of the album’s June 1, 1967 release.
Performances are also slated for Friday and Saturday.
Backed by a 12-piece band under the artistic direction of Art of Time founder Andrew Burashko, Page will sing all tunes from the Beatles’ eighth album alongside Andy Maize (Skydiggers), John Mann (Spirit of the West) and Craig Northey (Odds).
Page will sing most of McCartney’s parts.
“McCartney can really scream up high and when you’re working with Andrew, one thing is he rehearses like crazy,” said Page. “We go in and rehearse from 10 to seven every day and then go and do sound checks and shows, so by the end of the week your voice, if you’re not really taking care of it, it can be tough on it.
“So I get a little big nervous about that, when it comes to singing Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which is really high, and then trying to do something delicate like She’s Leaving Home. But I’m up for the challenge.”
A group of master pop, jazz and classical composers have “gone to town” on the new arrangements, said Burashko.
But they’ve kept the original melodies, lyrics and harmonies intact to respect what Page called the “sacredness” of the album that won four Grammy Awards.
“They’ve played off so many cool elements in the music and then referenced it and gone somewhere else with it. It’s quite interesting,” said Vancouver-based Northey, who will sing most of John Lennon’s parts in the concerts.“
“It makes you listen to the originals in a different way — they seem so concise; when I listened to them otherwise I thought, ‘Wow, they’re really on drugs. It’s awesome.’ But now they seem so together,” he added with a laugh.
This is the Art of Time’s second Beatles tribute concert after its sold-out 2009 re-imagining of the Abbey Road album that also included Maize and Page, who’s worked with the ensemble since 2008.
“The Beatles are probably the greatest musical influence on me, or they’ve been a bigger part of my life than any other music,” said Burashko, noting he first heard the Fab Four in Italy in ’73, when his family was en route to Canada from the Soviet Union.
“It was the first time I heard pop music. I would’ve been seven, and I just went mad for it, and to this day I listen to the Beatles on a regular basis.”