by John M. Borack
The music of the Beatles – specifically the Revolver and Abbey Road records – was celebrated at a very special benefit concert at the Wilshire-Ebell Theatre in Los Angeles last month. Both of the iconic Beatles LPs were performed in their entirety by a crackerjack house band consisting mainly of LA-area musicians, alongside a bevy of guest vocalists. The event benefited the Autism Think Tank and the Children’s Music Fund, and was the latest in a series of occasional shows masterminded by a handful of LA-area musical impresarios under the umbrella of “Wild Honey.”
The house band for the evening – affectionately dubbed the Wild Honey Orchestra – featured many uber-talented local pop music artists. Among them: musical director Rob Laufer, guitar and vocals; Jim Laspesa (Dave Davies/Susanna Hoffs/The Muffs), drums; Derrick Anderson (Bangles), bass; Rusty Squeezebox (Baby Lemonade, Love), guitar; Nelson Bragg (Brian Wilson Band), percussion and vocals; and Laurence Juber (Wings), guitar.
Guest vocalists included The Bangles (who performed together and separately), Al Stewart (“Year of the Cat”), Denny Laine (Wings, Moody Blues), Jody Stephens (Big Star), Colin Hay (Men at Work), The Muffs, Chris Stamey (The dB’s), Paisley Underground legends The Three O’Clock, Louise Goffin, Christine Collister (Richard Thompson band), Tommy Keene, Keith Allison (Paul Revere & the Raiders), Darian Sahanaja (Wondermints), John Wicks (The Records), John Easdale (Dramarama), Mike Viola, Ron Dante (The Archies) and others.
As with last year’s sold-out Wild Honey Rubber Soul and Sgt. Pepper extravaganza at the El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood, CA, the vibe was outstanding and the musical highlights were plentiful. Both albums were performed in their original running order, which meant that the night kicked off with a bang with “Taxman,” which found the Bangles and the Three O’Clock joining forces to make some musical magic (special kudos to drummer Danny Benair, who positively slammed his way through the tune).
Other Revolver highlights: Chris Stamey’s spine-tingling reading of “Eleanor Rigby”; Tommy Keene’s spirited “Love You To” (a perfect song choice for him), which was fortified by authentic Indian instrumentation and musical jack-of-all-trades Probyn Gregory on sitar; a tasteful “Here, There and Everywhere” from Rob Laufer, with Laurence Juber adding a sweet guitar solo; “She Said She Said” by John Wicks, Al Stewart, Bangle Debbi Peterson and Bill Berry, which saw drummer Jim Laspesa perfectly replicating Ringo’s creative drum fills; and the album-closing psychedelic freakout “Tomorrow Never Knows” by the Three O’Clock, which was one of the evening’s more transcendent moments.
The Muffs then hopped onstage to perform the Revolver-era “bonus track” “Rain,” which found the punk-pop icons in typically sharp form. Kim Shattuck’s throaty lead vocals and spiky guitar were perfectly complemented by Ronnie Barnett’s loping bass runs and Roy McDonald’s hyper-yet-controlled drumming. Combined with the special addition of the Bangles on background vocals, it breathed new life into an already classic number. Amazing.
After a brief intermission, it was time for Abbey Road. Special moments here included Denny Laine taking a lead vocal on “Something,” with Laurence Juber nailing the guitar solo; Big Star drummer Jody Stephens’ cute “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” (with Nelson Bragg on the anvil); Mike Viola’s appropriately and passionately raspy “Oh! Darling,” which absolutely brought down the house; and a lovely duet by Rob Laufer and a beaming Susanna Hoffs on “Here Comes the Sun” (Hoffs and her Bangle brethren would return for a breathtakingly beautiful “Because,” brimming with golden harmonies.)
Special mention must be made of bassist Derrick Anderson, who expertly replicated Paul McCartney’s innovative bass parts all evening. Nowhere was his mastery more apparent than on “You Never Give Me Your Money,” which also spotlighted a relatively obscure vocalist named Morty Coyle and was pushed into the stratosphere by Chris Stamey’s pulsating lead guitar. Over the course of the evening, the addition of strings, woodwinds and horns on the appropriate numbers lent an additional depth to the proceedings as well.
By the time the band and Christine Collister and Dan Wilson (Trip Shakespeare) were winding down on the side two medley of “Golden Slumbers”/”Carry That Weight”/”The End” (the latter featuring Laufer, Stamey and Juber trading off on the lead guitar sections), the crowd was suitably wowed. But wait – there was more! As a nice coda to a very special evening, Denny Laine returned to the stage to perform his old Moody Blues chestnut, “Go Now.”
As previously mentioned, the show (and a silent auction of music memorabilia held in the theatre lobby) raised funds for two important non-profit organizations. The Autism Think Tank brings together a team of top autism specialists to tackle the seemingly intractable and painful medical/psychological issues faced by children, while the Children’s Music Fund provides music therapy and musical instruments for children, adolescents, and young adults with chronic or life-altering illnesses.