If you've seen the Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac or the Who on tour recently, chances are you've forked over a rather tidy sum to attend each show. But for a fraction of the cost, a group of Toronto-based musicians has decided to present these bands' landmark albums and other 1970s classic releases. "Everybody loved the idea that this isn't a tribute band, there isn't anyone on stage dancing around like Stevie Nicks or Mick Jagger," says organizer Craig Martin, describing Classic Albums Live.
Martin and his group are performing a series of classic '70s rock albums in their entirety. The monthly series comes to London tomorrow at the Drink with a re-creation of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. It's a 19-and-up show.
"This is like a rock 'n' roll recital. We're treating the music the same way the Toronto Symphony Orchestra would do Mozart. We're doing these albums note for note, cut for cut."
Martin says he came up with the idea one day while listening to a classic rock station and thinking of his growing circle of musical friends.
"I thought about how much work I was getting these other musicians and I thought, 'Is there a way I can bring them all together?' " he says.
"Then Tumbling Dice came on the radio by the Stones and it hit me: 'I've got to do Exile on Main Street live. I've got to perform this album live.' And then I said 'I have to do all of these classic albums live.'"
Based at a Toronto hall, the group has performed two albums thus far -- the Pink Floyd gem and Fleetwood Mac's Rumours.
Martin says selecting these albums was relatively easy. Re-creating them was a different story.
"It's been a massive task," he says. "It hasn't been easy at all. The musicians I've got are incredible. For some of them, it was like going back to school. When you think about it, these are the albums that we started off with learning how to play. They're the first chords we learned.
"When they picked up the guitar, it was a major breakthrough when they first learned Stairway to Heaven, the opening chords. And here we are, 20 years later, playing them for real this time."
Musical director Martin says there are six rehearsals for each re-creation. A core group of musicians appear at each show with other musicians added according to the album's musical requirements.
The core group includes guitarists Desmond (Dez) Leahy, David Usher and Kim Bingham, keyboardist Kevin Young and Nelly Furtado's keyboard player Toad.
"The musicians have had a lot of homework and they go from complete elation to complete panic," Martin says.
"They study the albums, some of them chart it and some listen to the record and learn how to play it again. They research the instruments that the original artists used and they also research the type of tunings that went into it. We want to treat these works with respect and passion and we really want that to come across in our performance."
Martin says this isn't to be confused with a typical cover band or tribute band concert. There are no tapes, no samples, no between-song banter. Near-capacity audiences are greeted with the sound of a needle hitting vinyl before the first note is played.
He says the age range of the concertgoers has been the biggest surprise.
"We have 20-year-old kids in the audience standing beside 60-year-old, tie-dyed hippies," Martin says. "It's like a family outing. I was really happy because music today is so disposable and they've gone and gotten their parents' record collections out and found this stuff. Whatever it was that got them to gravitate to this stuff is fantastic, really inspiring."
Martin says the shows will continue, with future albums including Queen's A Night at the Opera, Synchronicity by the Police and a Bob Marley selection. There are also plans to take the show to New York.
There is to be a Web poll at www.classicalbumslive.com to help determine what albums audiences would like to see re-created.
The schedule from now until October has been set, featuring the Beatles' White Album, Supertramp's Crime of the Century and the Who's Who's Next.
IF YOU GO
What: A re-creation of Pink Floyd's classic rock album Dark Side of the Moon by Toronto-based musicians.
When: Tomorrow, doors open at 8 p.m.
Where: The Drink, 60 Wharncliffe Rd. N., London
Tickets and details: $12 in advance, $15 at door, plus service charges where applicable; available at Dr. Disc Remastered, Ticketmaster or the Drink; 19-and-up; call 679-0101