Rocks Off!

MANCHESTER - Some bands and music groups perform songs and instrumental pieces across a range of styles.

Others are eclectic.

If you can go from Pink Floyd to The Rolling Stones, that's eclectic.

Three years ago, a local group called The Battenkillers performed "Dark Side of the Moon," a classic album by the former English progressive supergroup Pink Floyd on Manchester's town green. The original album sold more than 50 million copies following its release in 1973 and is regularly ranked as one of the greatest and most influential of any released by groups of the popular rock genre. With its moody synthesizers and ethereal feel, it's a long way from the blues and dance hall rock that gave birth to The Rolling Stones, one of the few groups in all of musical history who probably don't need an introduction. If you are too old or too young to know of them, it's time you looked them up and found out about what you've missed.

The Battenkillers are back with another album length live concert set for Tuesday, Aug. 27, on the Town Green, this time with a piece of music that is as different from "Dark Side of the Moon" as it's possible to get in rock. The band, which consists of Geoff Chamberlain, Scott McCampbell, Matt Langan, Dan Scarlotta and Patrick Zilkha, will be performing "Exile on Main Street," widely regarded as one of if not the best the Stones ever released across more than 50 years of recording and performing popular music.

To perform an entire album of music from start to finish is by itself, something of a challenge. To consider taking on an iconic one like "Exile" which consists of music that draws from many sources - from rock 'n roll, to blues, to country, to gospel - is to take challenging to another level. But having done it once well with "Dark Side of the Moon," the band is looking forward to the gig.

"It was exciting when we finally pulled it off," said band member and guitarist Matt Langan, referring to their success with the Pink Floyd album. "At first we thought, 'no way' - and then when we finally did it we were proud of it. It made us a better band. We had to listen to nuance."

So what led them from the smoky moodiness of Pink Floyd to the somewhat less ambiguous Rolling Stones?

Earlier this year, the band began thinking about doing another full-length album effort, and began discussing which artists and which albums might be fun to try. They kept coming back to the Stones and focused on a group of four albums released between 1968 and 1972 that are widely regarded by fans and critics alike as representing the pinnacle of the Stones' creativity - "Beggar's Banquet," "Let it Bleed," "Sticky Fingers" and "Exile on Main Street." Eventually, "Exile," which was released in May 1972, won out; even though it was a 18-song double album, as the expression went back in that pre-iTunes, vinyl era.

Part of the attraction in doing "Exile" lay in the fact that within its 18 songs were many of the influences the Stones drew upon when writing and recording their enormous inventory of music. There's the unabashed 50's rockabilly of "Rip this Joint," the countryesque flavor of "Sweet Virginia," blues-drenched material like "Stop Breaking Down" and the gospel influenced "Let it Loose." Then there's the two hit singles which came out of the album that received widespread airplay at the time and still do on classic rock radio - "Tumblin' Dice" and "Happy."

After a massive undertaking like "Dark Side of the Moon," how hard could this be, band members thought. It turned out "Exile" offered more complexity than first met the eye - or more exactly, the ear.

"On the surface it's straight ahead rock 'n roll, but there's a lot of nuances and instrumentation changes from song to song," said guitarist Scott McCampbell. "All five of us sing lead on at least three songs - everyone gets their moment to shine."

And getting those vocal harmonies down correctly wasn't that easy either, added guitarist Geoff Chamberlain.

Subtlety and the Stones never seemed to go wholly hand-in-hand, but interesting pieces of a puzzle began to emerge as the band dug into the material and began to understand what the Stones were up to more than 40 years ago. "Exile" was recorded during one of the band's more chaotic periods, and there were no shortage of those moments in the first 10 years of the band's history. The title itself came from the fact that the group had left England in 1971 and moved to France to escape the reach of the British tax collectors. Add in a combustible mix of characters, like lead singer Mick Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards, who managed to collaborate artistically but came from opposite poles in other respects. The album itself was often recorded in snippets at a villa Richards had rented, but rarely were all five members of the band recording together at the same time. Rather, it worked out that they would stop by in ones or twos, record some pieces, leave, and other band members would appear and build on that.

It was a messy process, and major parts of the final product were recorded, re-mixed or re-recorded later that year and in the spring of 1972 in Los Angeles.

The Battenkillers won't be trying to replicate the album note for note, which was their goal on "Dark Side." There's too much instrumentation to cover for one thing. The original album featured a horn section on many of the songs, plus a complement of back up singers.

"We wanted to give every song its due," said drummer Dan Scarlatta. "The album really grows on you when you're trying to play it and really analyze it. Taken as a whole it really makes sense to you; it's been an interesting process."

After they decided to take on the project, The Battenkillers began practicing the material and taking apart the music from four decades ago. The first three or four songs fell into place nicely. Then came some unexpected hurdles, like "Let it Loose," the soulful gospel number that ends side three of the album. It's a soaring piece of music and one that required a lot of work, several of the band members agreed.

Others required some creative restructuring; using a keyboard to replace a horn part, for example, or re-arranging a song, like "Sweet Virginia," which The Battenkillers will play with some extra oomph at the end.

"Learn it, practice, practice; then see how we interpret it," was how Chamberlain described the process.

"To make it our own kind of relaxes us a little bit, but it's pretty close," he said.

The entire idea of an album's worth of music being recorded and listened to today is something that seems to be slipping away, Chamberlain said.

"The album is sort of a lost art," he said. "In this technological age, they're not looked at in the same way as they were when we grew up listening to these albums - wanting to sit down and absorb them."

The band was all set to play "Exile" last month as part of the summer series of concerts on the Town Green before rain forced a postponement. The show will go on regardless of the weather this time, Chamberlain said. If bad weather strikes again and forces the show indoors, they are prepared to play it at the Maple Street School.

Otherwise it's "Rocks Off" starting at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 27 at the green. The band is also planning to perform the set again, on Sept. 14 at The Perfect Wife restaurant, as part of a benefit concert for Vermont Heartworks.

The experience of taking this sort of deep dive into an album really strengthens a band and forces them to go to a new level musically, several of the band members agreed during a conversation last week.

It's a project they want to do again - music from artists as divergent as Prince, Radiohead and Led Zeppelin are all on the list of possibles for a future effort. But that's a decision for another day.

"For a band, it really coalesces you, it galvanizes you and it's fun to dive that far back into a great album," Chamberlain said. "A great album is a great album. It's timeless. I think we'll have a wide array of people coming who have a connection with it."


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