If this is the last Love Camp 7 album – and it might be – the long-running New York psychedelic rockers went out on a high note. Aside from a brief set by two longtime members – frontman/guitarist Dann Baker and bassist Bruce Hathaway – at a Manhattan bar last year, and an upcoming cd release show by the three surviving bandmates (guitarist Steve Antonakos joining Baker and Hathaway) at the Parkside this Saturday, this looks like the end for one of the most unpredictably brilliant rock acts to ever come out of this town. Despite the tragic and unexpected 2010 death of drummer Dave Campbell – whose nimble, shapeshifting, jazz- and Brazilian-influenced rhythms in many ways defined this band – they have a brilliant album to show for some of their last studio sessions. Titled Love Camp VII, it features the full band playing fourteen songs (including a secret track), all using Beatles albums as their titles.
While there are plenty of wry and lovingly pilfered riffs here, this isn’t a Beatles parody. Nor is it a homage in the strict sense of the word: when the Fab Four first make an actual appearance, it’s after the band has broken up, a rather cruel look back on what John, Paul, George and Ringo’s solo careers should have been (ok, Ringo gets a pass) but weren’t. Rather, this album is sort of a history of the Beatles era, that band somewhere in the picture, usually in the background. Which makes sense, given Baker’s fondness for historical themes (particularly on the group’s fifth and arguably best album, 2007’s Sometimes Always Never).
For all the stylistic and tempo changes here, this is basically a janglerock record with numerous breaks for psychedelic mayhem. Meet the Beatles opens the album, taking a brightly jangly Merseybeat melody and twisting the rhythm, with a big choir of voices, a fragment of baroque guitar, and a rolling, tumbling Campbell solo all together in the middle, one right after the other. That’s Love Camp 7 in a nutshell. The Beatles’ Second Album is cast as a shuffling, harmony-driven reminiscence by a kid whose time in a dysfunctional family is soothed by that particular soundtrack. Arguably the funniest track here, A Hard Day’s Night subtly observes how the Beatles changed everybody’s lives, in this case the members of the Byrds (back when Jim McGuinn was in the band – the lyrics are priceless). It’s the most Spinal Tap moment here, in a comedic sense at least.
Beatles ’65 evokes the Hollies with its bracing major/minor changes, then shifts suddently from cheery Merseybeat to an ornately artsy anthem and then back again. Beatles VI completely switches gears, an unexpectedly grinding, proto-metal heavy R&B number, like the Pretty Things circa 1968, that cynically celebrates the “media saturation” that the Beatles spearheaded. With its layers of ironically blithe harmonies, Help imagines what Lennon might have done without Yoko, George without Krishna, Paul if he hadn’t stolen ideas from Denny Laine, and Ringo….”help me understand how he ended up so much the same.” It’s a beautiful ballad, something that Roy Wood could have written: reputedly Erica Smith (who’s opening the Saturday show at 8:30) has a version of this song in the can that’s even better.
Rubber Soul starts out as a look back at Love Camp 7’s trickily rhythmic, often dissonant earlier work and then rises to a roaring art-rock crescendo complete with horns, while Revolver cleverly recasts a summer pool party as portent of radical times to come. Ironically, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band has more in common musically with earlier Beatles sounds, although at this point marijuana finally makes an appearance: “The moon will soon be manned; brave new world’s at hand,” Baker observes, not without apprehension. A somewhat radically reconstructed skiffle tune, Magical Mystery Tour explores Baker’s first encounter with the album – in a Sav-On department store at the corner of Laurel Canyon and Ventura Boulevard in Los Angeles.
The Beatles is the second proto-metal track here and also only the second to (briefly) chronicle the band, in this case what seems to be their eventual demise. The most musically diverse track here, Let It Be juxtaposes hardcore punk with a coldly sarcastic pop melody and a blatant I Am the Walrus quote. The saddest track (and ostensibly the final one) is Abbey Road, gently quoting the introduction to the Cure’s Boys Don’t Cry and later the Youngbloods’ Come Together as the 70s creep in, “Lying in their beds, a fearful throbbing in their heads, wishing they were dead; nobody cares.” The mystery track, The Beatles’ Story, is a perfect match of pensive yet optimistically jangly, Arthur Lee-esque pop that ends the album on a less than optimistic note: arguably, being able to live vicariously through the Beatles is a lot more fun than actually being one.