The ante is upped measurably for the latest all-star benefit show staged by the Wild Honey Foundation: a varied assemblage of singers and musicians, mostly Los Angeles-based, who will perform two of the Beatles' most highly regarded albums, "Revolver" and "Abbey Road," on Saturday at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre, a venue nearly quadruple the size of the site of last year's show.
"This is the biggest show we've ever done," said organizer Paul Rock. "The Wilshire Ebell holds about 1,200, which is giant for us. Last year's show was at the El Portal [in North Hollywood], which has a capacity of about 375. But it sold out about three weeks in advance, so I felt like there was more demand. And when you're doing the Beatles, those Beatles people will do anything."
At last year's performance, the Beatles' "Rubber Soul" and "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" albums were performed in their entirety. "Revolver" and "Abbey Road" struck Rock as the logical next step.
Proceeds from the show are going to the Autism Think Tank and the Children's Music Fund, which provides music therapy and instruments for children with chronic or life-altering illnesses. (Tickets run $25 to $45 and are available online.)
Rock and partners David Jenkins and Andrew Sandoval had been putting on benefits regularly for nearly a decade, then took a break when his son, Jake, was born. He resumed the practice last year with the show at the El Portal to raise funds for Autism Think in part to help Jake, who is severely nonverbal autistic, and who was one of three recipients of scholarships funded by last year's show.
"It helped him quite a bit, and it sparked me to do this next show," Rock said, "because more kids should get to do this. There's a lot of ignorance over what goes on with these kids."
To tackle two of the albums consistently ranked among the Fab Four's finest, Rock has enlisted a slew of friends old and new, including the Bangles, Matthew Sweet, Al Stewart, Denny Laine (a former member of Paul McCartney's Wings and the Moody Blues), the Muffs, Men At Work's Colin Hay, the Three O'Clock, Jody Stephens of pioneering indie-rock band Big Star, Louise Goffin, Beach Boys founding member David Marks and numerous others.
They'll be backed by the Wild Honey Orchestra, an ad hoc group whose lineup this year includes guitarist, singer and musical director Rob Laufer, drummer Jim Laspesa, bassist Derrick Anderson, guitarist Rusty Squeezebox, keyboardists Willie Aron and Jordan Summers, percussionist Nelson Bragg, multi-instrumentalist Porbyn Gregory, horn player Sarah Kramer and string player Kaitlin Wolfberg. The Wild Honey Orchestra and foundation take their name from a Beach Boys song, the title track of the 1967 album that's long been a favorite among Beach Boys/Brian Wilson geeks.
Rock began staging benefits featuring various musicians from the Southern California music scene in 1994, sometimes putting on three or four shows a year both to support worthwhile causes and to foster a sense of musical community. He said many friendships have been established and musical collaborations have grown out of these shows.
"Brian Wilson found the Wondermints at our very first show," Rock said. "Both were on the bill, and he heard them do some stunning versions of 'Smile' songs. Some of them are still playing with him in his band. Dave Davies [of the Kinks] got the people who were in his touring band for many years from our show."
In performing entire albums, Rock said the goal for all concerned is "to be faithful, not to copy." The advantage of choosing full albums, he said, is it brings a focus to an event that otherwise could ramble.
"There are some people in the ensemble who want to duplicate everything on the record, so there's a little push and pull that goes on with that. But since we're not doing a variety show, where everybody can offer their own take, the singers have to be pretty much on board with generally faithful renditions."
Besides, there's also the fact that both albums being presented were products of leaps and bounds the Beatles and producer George Martin were making with recording studio techniques. They weren't created or recorded with live performance in mind.
"A lot of what's on the record you can't duplicate live, because they were done with tapes running backward," he said. "But we're trying to keep those elements in there and make them live. People will feel like they're getting vivid, Technicolor versions of those records."
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