STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
@brianbingaman on Twitter
Classic Albums Live founder and music director Craig Martin really, really, really hates tribute bands.
“I was fed up with seeing the music I care so deeply about … with these crappy tribute bands desecrating the masters,” he said.
So in 2003, Martin committed himself to assembling nine- and 10-piece bands, comprised of “the world’s very best musicians” from his hometown of Toronto, to perform classic rock albums sequentially and note-for-note, with the same reverence and purist precision as a classical orchestra. “All our focus is put on the music. We don’t jump around. We don’t dress in costume. We don’t have a light show. We don’t talk to the audience (in the same way that conductors of big city orchestras generally do not engage the audience). No bad impersonations,” said Martin.
While Classic Albums Live enlists professional musicians from all over — and in the cities where they tour, if those individuals are up to snuff — to recreate the music of AC/DC, The Beatles, David Bowie, The Doors, The Eagles, Elton John, Fleetwood Mac, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Prince, The Who and others, the company’s “flagship show” remains Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.”
“As the old masters slow down … I don’t think they’ll be touring with quite the verve they used to,” he said, adding that “Dark Side of the Moon” “changed my life.”
During an Oct. 21 concert at Sellersville Theater, after performing the 1973 album in its entirety, there will be a Pink Floyd greatest hits and deep cuts set, during which the band does talk to the audience. That part of the show, Martin said, is for “I can’t believe they played that” songs like, for example, “One of These Days,” “See Emily Play” or “Comfortably Numb.”
Many of “Dark Side of the Moon”’s sometimes layered sound effects were done with tape effects. However, Classic Albums Live will be physically performing them live on stage, according to Martin. Imagine the ticking, ringing and chiming clocks at the beginning of “Time” done in real time, with actual clocks. And someone will be running during “On the Run” to achieve the sound of the footsteps. “We wanna make sure there’s no mystery,” said Martin.
The show’s horn arranger is Braxton Hicks and the string arranger is Alex McMaster.
So who does the over-the-top wailing on “The Great Gig in the Sky?” Her name is Nicole Robinson, and Martin said that “if you don’t have the little hairs climbing up on your arms” hearing her sing the Side One-concluding track, “you need to see the doctor.”
When asked about his take on the gloomy existential themes of the album, Martin noted that Robinson is younger than 30, and had never heard “Dark Side of the Moon” before joining Classic Albums Live. Recalling something she said to him, he stated: “With all that’s going on in the world, this record is what the world needs.”
Now in his 50s, Martin said that as a teenager, “Dark Side of the Moon” stoked the imaginations of him and his friends. He’s owned the album on 8-track tape, cassette, vinyl, CD, digital download and the remastered box set. “We could justify our lives by this record,” he commented.
Classic Albums Live has received messages of approval from Queen, and Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, according to Martin.