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« Classic Albums Live—Ten Years Strong »

Classic Albums Live started ten years ago as a collection of Toronto’s best session musicians putting together a recreation of classic rock records of distinction. Their promise was a ‘note for note, cut for cut’ delivery of whatever album they were playing that night, but in reality, you got so much more: after the featured LP had ended and the band took a well-derserved intermission break, you often got another full hour of hits from the band they were paying tribute to.

For me, my love of this organisation started at the Phoenix Club, another Toronto landmark that is a part of my family history. Like the iconic El Mocambo once had a German swing hall where my parents met on a blind date in the 1950s,  the Phoenix was the former home of the Club-Harmonie, a German cultural centre where I spent many happy hours as a child at concerts, parties, and dances. Resurrected as a nightclub with live events, it was the perfect location for Crag Martin’s CAL series of concerts, a decent-sized venue with an upstairs viewing balcony and enough space to watch or dance along.  I have fond memories of seeing Who’s Next, Dark Side of the Moon, Harvest, The Wall, Crime of the Century, Rubber Soul, among many shows caught there. My two favourites were both Pink Floyd shows, one because Dark Side of the Moon was accompanied by a television playing The Wizard of Oz on each side of the stage, and The Wall because of the chorus of children singing along to Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2. Brilliant theatrics all around.


Photo by Anne-Marie Klein : The left side of the stage at Roy Thompson Hall for CAL’s performance of Sgt. Pepper


In the past year, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing A Night at the Opera at the iconic and acoustically perfect Massey Hall, and just two weeks ago, had the utter joy of seeing Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band performed at Roy Thompson Hall, which is home to the Toronto Symphony. What you realise after just seeing one of the shows is that the ‘note for note, cut for cut’ tag line is not so easily done outside the studio, and that an instrument or musician is often on the stage for just a few seconds to add that extra sound before (s)he disappears again. You also appreciate the majesty of a singer’s voice, as was the case with Freddie Mercury, by seeing how many substitutes it takes to fully deliver his incredible range. For Sgt. Pepper, it took an ensemble of 16 musicians from the first song to the last, and a vast array of guitars, woodwinds, a harp, a sitar, and a few different keyboard and percussion set-ups. My favourite number, and the one I was most looking forward to, was Mr. Kite, and the circus tempo and chaotic whirlwind of sounds did not disappoint. The second half of the show was mostly lifted from Magical Mystery Tour, which was a brilliant choice for encore numbers.


Photo by Anne-Marie Klein : The right side of the stage at Roy Thompson Hall for CAL’s performance of Sgt. Pepper

If you take a look at CAL’s website, you will see that they have now expanded to cities across North America, delivering their shows to a wider audience than those of us who regularly saw them at the Phoenix in the early 2000s. The selection of LPs has grown from those early days as well, and the venues are now bigger. As they mark their tenth anniversary, I am happy for two things— live music still has a place in Toronto, and there is still a great hunger for hearing those brilliant snapshots from the musical past, note for note, cut for cut.

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