Those who follow Sound of STL will recognize The People’s Key from their presentation of Jazz Side of the Moon back in February. After an unforgettable performance we were happy to come and check out their latest endeavor, Here Comes The Jazz: Abbey Road Revisited. For one-night-only, music lovers at The Stage were transported back to Fall of 1969, with their tribute to one of the most beloved Beatles albums. Here Comes The Jazz is the second Beatles appearance in their cover shows, adding to the performance of Sergeant Pepper’s in 2015.
Abbey Road in particular has a special place with the band, explains Ryan Marquez, “We really love Abbey Road because of the interplay of theme and variation, where you have one of the first iconic records that is compositionally cohesive.” The cohesive qualities definitely carried through to their interpretation of the album, with each song differing greatly but feeling very natural in flow.
For those unfamiliar with the jazz ensemble that is The People’s Key, the group is made up of Ryan Marquez (Organs/Basskeys), Charlie Cerpa (Tenor Sax), Matt Rowland (Guitar), and Mike Murano (Drums). Besides their versatile productions of the classics, the group is greatly involved in all areas of the St. Louis music scene. Matt Rowland is a member of multiple groups including The Transmatter Express. Murano follows suite with multiple appearances, including Sound of STL favorite The Mighty Pines. The bands personal projects in the worlds of Bluegrass and Rock N Roll help to foster a versatile musical dynamic.
While covering an album from start to finish is a common trend in local music scenes, The People’s Key elevates the tribute performance to an entirely new level. Rather than simply converting the songs to a jazzier feel, they look to the music to find qualities of jazz that already exist within the album. “Compositionally, we start out by just playing the song and seeing what it sounds like. Then we mess with it in our own way to hear influences of Jazz, Blues, Fusion, Rock, Soul, Hip-Hop and more,” says Marquez about the conception of their latest production.
Dark Side of the Moon had more of a natural jazziness to it, but Abbey Road stays pretty true to its 60s Pop-Rock classification. As they composed many of the tracks, they would begin with Marquez on the organ, with each member then layering on their personal touch as they go. Rather than fighting the Pop-iness of the tracks, they preserve the energy of the originals, creating compositions that are both familiar and surprising at every turn.
The performance began with the album opener Come Together, which featured a lead voice from Charlie on sax that eased the crowd into the world of Abbey Road. Charlie provided an extra layer of retro-cool, sporting some Lennon-esque rose colored glasses along with his suit coat. The natural choice would be to have saxophone and keys take the major melodies while the drums and guitar play along with the original base, but they go far beyond this format. In each composition you can find a moment that highlights every instrument on stage. This is not a group where one member falls into the background. You can really tell these guys respect each other’s musical integrity just as much as the spectators. While they shine during their solos, the true power of The People’s Key comes out when they play in full force together.
In the first few tracks the group explored the diverse facets of jazz music, from more traditional smooth jazz to resort jazz vibes. They used the up-tempo energy of tropical jazz to evoke the poppy energy of the originals, with Rowland often exploring the melodies on his guitar utilizing various effects and distortions.
The highlight of the evening was their cover of I Want You (She’s So Heavy). While it is lovely to hear instrumental versions of the classics, the moments where the compositions join with a vocal performance add a special flavor. There was a strong energy in the room as their gang vocals called out “She’s So!” Not only did the boys obviously enjoy the fun vocal choreo, but the intensity of the original allowed for each member to fully explore the possibilities of their medium with an extra dose of heart.
The final tracks on the album came much too soon, but The People’s Key never leaves a crowd wishing for more. As per usual they came back on stage after their performance of album closer The End, and played a special treat for the audience. Matt Rowland showed off his vocal skills covering Her Majesty, the short but sweet hidden track on Abbey Road that is considered to be the first hidden track ever placed on an album.
Next their encore showed off the first off-album track of the night with a full force cover of Revolution. One of the best parts of a People’s Key performance is the energy each member brings to the stage. Throughout the night, the group is full of smiles, having just as much fun as the audience exploring the classics. Murano and Rowland can often be caught sharing a smile and laugh, taking in everything about the special performance.
Albums like Dark Side of the Moon and Abbey Road are so closely revered by many, so covering them can be quite the daunting feat. But the multi-talented members of The People’s Key are the perfect men for the task. They by no means set out to improve on the hardened classic, but hope to elevate it to a new regard, harnessing the pure genius hidden within the original to bring it to a new light. While most members of The Beatles have already passed on, their music will live on forever. And The People’s Key have made their mark on that legacy with Here Comes the Jazz. As Marquez describes, “These gems will live as long as they possibly can. This show is our contribution and respect paid to the Beatles legacy.”
You can catch The People’s Key at Jazz at the Bistro this August 4th and 5th, with an early and late show scheduled each night. They also will be back at The Stage at KDHX presenting a tribute to the great Jimi Hendrix on November 3rd.
More photos from the evening’s performance: