When I was 8 years old, I wanted to be the Beatles. Not just one of the Beatles — I wanted to be all four of them. I was very precocious that way.
Some time around the second grade, I got a hold of my parents' record collection and serenaded the house almost daily with "Rubber Soul," "Abbey Road" and those other vinyl slabs. After awhile, my admiration grew to the point where I launched my own one-man rock band in the living room, wielding a pair of drumsticks and playing an acoustic guitar, drum and cymbal all at once.
When you consider that I was trying to play a guitar with drumsticks, you can reason that I didn't have much technical savvy. Still, I tried to be as professional as I could — writing my own lyrics, recording my songs on a tape recorder, even hiding one tape in a bedroom drawer so I could have an "unreleased track," as I had read the Beatles did.
Despite the loyal attendance of my two fans — which is to say, my parents, who did what they could to nurture an aspiring Mozart — I didn't make it very far as a rock icon. But even if we let our childhood dreams slide, they can still jump up and enchant us from time to time. And that was exactly what happened Thursday night, when I watched the Huntington Beach Academy for the Performing Arts play the Beatles' entire "Revolver" album from top to bottom.
The academy, better known as APA, is an intensive program in the Huntington Beach Union High School District that not only trains kids to perform like professionals, but also drills them in lighting, sound and other essentials of stagecraft. Considering that Thursday's performance at First Christian Church of Huntington Beach was technically superior to some adult rock concerts I've seen, those teachers must be doing something right.
They're also doing something ambitious. "Revolver," released in 1966, was a landmark in terms of recording technology, fusing genres from folk to classical to acid rock and layering them with backward guitar, tape loops and other studio trickery. As the students explained in one of a series of video clips that punctuated the show, the "Revolver" songs were so technically demanding that the Beatles didn't even attempt to perform them on stage.
The debate over the Beatles' greatest album may continue for centuries, but if I had to give a skeptic a single disc to convince them of the group's genius, I would pick "Revolver." It's tough, of course; "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" and "Abbey Road" are more technically audacious, "The Beatles" (a.k.a. The White Album) more eclectic and "Rubber Soul" more lyrically cohesive.
But that 1966 classic represents all the band's strengths to the fullest — rock-solid hooks, experimentation, musical punch and lyrical wit. The album is a marvel of tightness (the two longest tracks barely exceed three minutes) and also teamwork: No two consecutive songs feature the same lead vocalist, which shows how well the band could function as a unit before egos began to weigh it down.
Given the task at hand — recreating one of rock's seminal studio albums live on stage — I'd be willing to cut a group of teenagers plenty of slack if they didn't pull it off. But within a few bars of Thursday night's opening song, "Taxman," I let my doubts slide.
Whether there were any flubbed notes or dropped beats over the ensuing hour, someone with a more attuned ear would have to say. As for me, I spent most of the show tapping my feet, lip-synching to lyrics and otherwise making a blissful fool of myself. Suffice to say I haven't felt 8 years old for so many consecutive minutes since I was, well, 8 years old.
Listening to an album played live is, I suppose, like watching "Hamlet" for the 100th time: You already know the script and wait to hear the interpretation. APA's version of "Revolver" mostly stuck to the Beatles' arrangements note-for-note, but the players slipped in a few twists as well.
"Here, There and Everywhere," with a harder drumbeat than the original, sounded more like a power ballad than a mellow crooner. The one all-video performance of the night, on George Harrison's Indian rocker "Love You To," turned almost into a comedy number, with singers' voices electronically altered and spliced together through jump cuts.
Otherwise, the original versions more than translated to a live show, and even small moments — the echoing choral vocals on the tag of "Good Day Sunshine," the wobbling bass notes that conclude "And Your Bird Can Sing" — got an extra kick from being heard up close. (A special shout-out also goes to Natalie Martz, whose gutsy reading of "Got to Get You Into My Life" was the evening's vocal high point.)
If APA had been around when I was entering high school, would I have ached to play in a show like this? No doubt. But my rock-star dreams haven't died completely. That tape I hid years ago must be buried in a box somewhere, and if I dig it out, I'll listen for any raw potential.
City Editor MICHAEL MILLER can be reached at (714) 966-4617 or at email@example.com.