What do you get when you parade 36 music artists through a legendary music studio? Probably a hefty cleaning bill. But also some magical performances... and when you add some cameras, you've got yourself some quality summer television viewing. Premiering Thursday, June 21 on the Sundance Channel is the live music program Live From Abbey Road, which is a rebroadcasting here of what folks in the UK already saw on BBC's Channel 4 earlier this year (it's also been broadcasted already in Australia and Japan as well.)
EXCLUSIVE PREVIEW CLIPS
The concept is perfect simplicity: take an artist, have them perform three songs in the studio, and weave it with some interviews. There's no host and no audience - just the artist and the viewer... and that's really all you need. The diverse set of artists performing this season include Paul Simon, Gnarls Barkley, Wynton Marsalis, Snow Patrol, Gipsy Kings, The Killers, LeAnn Rimes, Ray Lamontagne, John Mayer, Iron Maiden, Primal Scream, Norah Jones and many more.
Playlist: Artists on Live from Abbey Road
The premiere features Mayer, Jones and Richard Ashcroft, and actually aired as the 11th episode (of 12) on the BBC, but because Sundance is looking for a wider US audience to tune in, they bubbled this one up to the top. I understand the reasoning, but it's unfortunate that for the first foot forward we have to listen to John Mayer wax poetic about his pedestrian "Gravity." And to see Richard Ashcroft still playing the song ("Bittersweet Symphony") that both made and destroyed his band The Verve, could've been a story in and of itself... one that is oddly ignored in the interview with Ashcroft. The second episode seems far more entertaining, with Red Hot Chili Peppers, Madeleine Peyroux and Snow Patrol all sharing air time from the legendary studio.
The diversity of acts on a given episode reminds me a bit of the old NBC show in the late 80's called Night Music, only on that program (hosted by David Sanborn, and later Jools Holland) artists would jam together on a song at the end. For instance, Sonic Youth jammed with The Indigo Girls on Iggy Pop's "I Wanna Be Your Dog" (Click here for video proof.) Can you imagine flamenco masters The Gipsy Kings, UK pop sensation Natasha Bedngfield, and legends of metal Iron Maiden all getting together to play "Hey Jude"? Now that would be some entertaining television. (The Gipsy Kings actually do perform a Spanish version of "Hey Jude" for their segment.)
Of course the series also serves as a great chance to get a look inside the famous studio, where The Beatles recorded nearly all their work from 1962-1970 (192 of the Beatles' 202 songs.) To that point, each episode features a blast from the studio's past, this first episode celebrates the 40th anniversary of The Beatles live performance of "All You Need Is Love," in what was then the first global satellite transmission. It's easily the highlight of this first episode from the series.
While the studio is famous for The Beatles recordings, since the 1980s the studio has been the place to go for scoring film. They recently celebrated 25 years of scoring, from Indiana Jones to The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Abbey Road has been at the forefront.
I'll also be highlighting upcoming episodes from time to time in my weekly 'Music on Talk Shows' feature, which includes variety programming in it's scope.