Petra Haden & the Sellouts

on Oct 26 in Music by

petra haden

Petra Haden and six female vocalists, whom she referred to as “the choir,” performed a capella at the World Cafe Live, featuring most of The Who’s 1967 concept album “The Who Sell Out” and half a dozen others songs including some lovely and weird originals, the Beach Boys’ God Only Knows and a great arrangement of a Bach piece.

The Who Sell Out was a really cool album. For one thing, it established early on that rock bands’ names are singular. We don’t say The Who Sells Out. The Beatles was, not were a great band. You get the idea.

It came out before the concept album became a pretentious category, almost forty years ago, back when a rock band smashing their guitars and amps at the end of their live shows (as the Who did), was really something to think about. And it was a kick-ass, alternately hilarious and pissed-off ode to consumerism, featuring the band and singers in the roles of sellouts (which of course they were), right up to vocalist Roger Daltry, pictured on the cover, sitting in a vat of baked beans. I remember sitting in my bedroom as a kid, staring at it, wondering what he was wearing under the beans, listening to it over and over again, amazed at how audacious and musical it was, grateful there were other strange people out there like me and not just a planet full of squares like my parents, my peers and my teachers.

The show was excellent. The choir was really on, the arrangements complex, muscular and delightful, with these weird unresolved chords hanging in the air, odd, funny sounds that resembled drums, bass and even Pete Townsend’s searing and soaring guitar parts. You couldn’t help but smile, especially hearing the little audio gestures like station IDs that Townsend used to connect songs like I Can See for Miles and Maryann With the Shaky Hands. How difficult this must have been to put together — as hard probably in ensemble as it was for Petra Haden to do it as she did on record by herself. She stood there in the center, keeping time, taking most of the leads, while around her, in nicely balanced stereo, the choir did percussion, backing vocals of course, and bass and drums, which must be hard to do for eight minutes with a straight face.

On the drive home, I couldn’t help but imagine Haden and her talented cohorts doing Sgt. Pepper, Dark Side of the Moon, American Beauty or Pet Sounds. Or maybe more classical material. The Bach piece kicked ass, but God forbid, they should cover the Swingle Singers, one of whose albums I recently dug out. Anyway, I highly recommend Petra Haden in concert and on CD.

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