Nah, you probably don't know their names. Which is fine, says Craig Martin, who founded the band Classic Albums Live eight years ago. They aren't important anyhow. The names, that is. "We're a faceless bunch," he says. Expanding upon the theme, they're a faceless bunch of top-notch musicians from the Great White North, all of whom have been in tribute bands in the past. Which, in itself, isn't exactly a recommendation, seeing how the world already has to endure "a slag heap of budget tribute bands fermenting in the wings, licking their lips in anticipation for their chance to desecrate the legacy of the greats." That's what Martin, who used to run a Stones tribute band called the Midnight Ramblers, writes in his blog — a great read, by the way, covering everything from the political economy of swag at concerts to fanciful,and definitely imaginary fishing trips with Bob Dylan. Don't take it the wrong way. They're all deep into the so-called classic rock era — Beatles, Stones, Floyd — almost to the point where an intervention may be required.
These guys are, well, "insane purists" is the word Martin uses — insane being the operative word here. Obsessive compulsive disorder is, after all, a recognized classification in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. And, make no mistake about it, this band is obsessive about its work, which is to stage note-for-note recreations of the monster albums, the canon of the golden age, like Dark Side of the Moon, "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," "Sticky Fingers." They take a pure approach. There are no gimmicks. There are no silly little outfits, which few people can pull off anyhow, no hackneyed cockney or bad accents of any kind, barring Canadian. There's no cheese at all. Just music. Just the classic album of the moment. They have over 40 albums ready to go at any time. They'll be playing Abbey Road note for note, from beginning to end, June 16 at the Blue Ocean Music Hall in Salisbury. They follow up with "Led Zeppelin II" on July 14, "Dark Side of the Moon" on Aug. 18 and "Back in Black" on Sept. 15.
There's no hard sell, no hype. They're not interested in hair or fashion, they're not interested in backstage drama or TMZ-theater. "We go on stage, play the show, then go home at the end of the night. End of story," Martin says. They do it live, without guile, and without samples — further evidence of the band's musical OCD. Martin knows they could make their lives, their shows, a whole lot easier using samples, pushing a button to summon up a barrage of screaming alarm clocks when they do "Time," from "Dark Side of the Moon," but they prefer the authenticity of live alarm clocks. Same deal with, say, the ending of "Good Morning" from Sgt. Pepper. No, they don't have varmints onstage doing their thing — barking, meowing, crowing. They would lead to a whole different set of headaches. What they have is musicians doing the effects live. Martin understands his band could take the easier road, that nobody would complain or, probably, even care, but, he says, it gives performances a more authentic feel.
That's the artistic side. And on the financial side? More madness. Dragging around a large band, like the 17-piece orchestra they use for the Sgt. Pepper, or the 12-piece gospel choir for the Exile on Main Street show, in addition to the core band, can be a logistical nightmare as well as a financial drain of monumental proportion — especially when you get all artistically uppity about not accepting advertising or hawking tee shirts and other product at your shows, when, if you do a particularly good job, all the people who dig what you're doing will go out and buy ... someone else's album, yeah, that's kinda crazy, if not financially suicidal. He's been approached about these issues, but can't deal with the idea of merchandising. "I couldn't get into it," he says. "It's crass and takes away from the music." Besides, he says, "if you're in it for the money, "you might as well pack it up now and go to law school."
But about the name. It's a little spot-on, don't you think, a tad bland?
"Hey, we're Canadian," Martin says. "We're boring, we can't help it."
And the URL of their web could be read as classical bums live?
"Yeah, we've head that before," he says, dryly, politely, Canadian style.
Fact is, though, while maybe it's only rock and roll, like the song says, they more than like it. In fact, Martin considers it to be modern classical music, which is why the band approaches it like it does — like it's fully scored and orchestrated, like it should leave no room for improvisation at all, that while the music has not been around as long as, say Bach, it has stood the test of time and is a work of art — and not just in a transient rock and roll sense.
But, downside, does learning all the secrets, the preoccupation with authenticity, the obsessive-compulsive preoccupation with detail, does it take away the magic of the music, of the moment?
Yes, a little.
Martin listens to the radio, but "can't listen to it pleasurably" because he's always deconstructing the music, taking it apart and figuring out how it works, why it works. Still, after the band puts it all back together, when Martin is performing he is "past bliss," he says. "Being in a room with people, experiencing this music, still gives me shivers and goosebumps."
JUST THE FACTS, MAN: Classic Albums Live will recreate, note-for-note, the Beatles' Abbey Road album at 8 p.m. June 16 at Blue Ocean Music Hall, 4 Ocean Front North, Salisbury Beach. Tickets are $20. After playing the album, the band will perform a selection of other Beatles hits. The concert is sponsored by WHEB-FM and The Morning Buzz. It is the first of several shows at the Blue Ocean. They'll perform "Led Zeppelin II" on July 14, Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" on Aug. 18 and AC/DC's "Back in Black" on Sept. 15. For more information, call 978.462.5888 or check out the Web sites for the band or the venue.