[23 July 2007]
The Orange County Register
One of the side effects of adding Sundance to my DirecTV lineup so I could check out its Live Earth coverage is that I’ve been able to catch up with the channel’s new music program, “Live From Abbey Road.”
It’s a fine format—an intimately captured hour divided among three acts, each performing live informally (but hardly blithely) inside Abbey Road, the landmark London studio where so many classics were recorded, especially from the Beatles (who laid down most everything they did there) and Pink Floyd (who used it to cut every album from “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” to “Wish You Were Here”). The show is only four or five episodes on, but I’ve already seen plenty of worthwhile turns—notably John Mayer (very nice on “Gravity” and “Vultures”), Norah Jones, Red Hot Chili Peppers and an eye-opening appearance from English dance-pop siren Natasha Bedingfield, whose soulfulness came through much more in this stripped-down setting.
But interspersed between the tunes are brief interview segments, and that’s often where things go wrong. Not that the artists have nothing of value to say; most provide fairly keen insight into how they approach songwriting and recording and live performance, typically within the context of discussing their latest wares. For as intelligent as these spots can be, however, they can also get dull or, worse, make the entire “Abbey Road” segment seem like an advertisement for a new album.
Ultimately, that’s exactly what these visits are—just a more artfully lensed way of promoting new music. What could make both the performances and the show itself more meaningful is if there was an emphasis on the storied studio itself—and what it feels like for these stars, especially the younger ones, to be putting down anything within its hallowed halls.
As it is, each episode tends to include a soundbite from one of the hour’s names superficially touching on what an honor it is to be there—Richard Ashcroft got that nod in the Mayer/Jones show, Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody in a package featuring the Chili Peppers and Madeleine Peyroux. Other than that, there’s sometimes an archival clip at the halfway point—the Beatles’ global television event for “All You Need Is Love,” a scene of Helen Shapiro cutting another British novelty in 1961.
Perhaps when David Gilmour is the star (6 p.m. EDT Tuesday, also featuring Amos Lee and Randy Crawford), his return to Abbey Road will get him to reminisce about what it was like in during that groundbreaking late `60s/early `70s period. But I can’t imagine the July 26 episode, including LeAnn Rimes, Dr. John and Massive Attack, will provide any revelatory memories—though Mr. Rebenack might have a hazy thought or two, and I’m quite excited to see how the Attack comes off in this setting regardless.