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Reinterpreting 'Sgt. Pepper.'

Friday, February 15

NORTHAMPTON — The liner notes of the "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" CD contains the following quote by producer George Martin: "The Beatles definitely had an eternal curiosity for doing something different." The album is an adventurous approach that confounds musical expectations, not unlike that of Northampton's Primate Fiasco, whose audacious plan to interpret the Beatles' seminal opus tomorrow night at The Iron Horse is as wild an idea as it is a compelling one.

A splendid time is guaranteed for all by the group's originator, banjo player Dave Dello-Russo, with a little help from his friends.

The self-described "Misbehavin' Old-Timey Psychedelic Dixie Band" — none of whose members is over 30 — will be going in and out of styles, yet the courageous quintet will sound very little like the Fab Four.

"Expect anything but the Beatles' way of doing it. They already did a great job of that," explained Dello-Russo. "Expect reggae, funk, bluegrass, New Orleans jazz, Motown, swing, and, of course, psychedelic Dixieland."

Dello-Russo's vision for performing "Sgt. Pepper" preceded Primate Fiasco.

"I've wanted to do this for years, since I had learned that The Beatles intended it to be performed by other bands," Dello-Russo said.

"I've seen a lot of plays where Shakespeare scripts were adapted to modern settings. Adapting well-known songs into unlikely styles is something (our) band has been doing since the beginning.

"We sometimes take modern rock songs and make them jazz, but also convert old jazz standards to modern feels like funk or disco. So a full album has always been sort of a goal that I never thought we'd get around to."

Which song has the band's members found most challenging?

" 'She's Leaving Home' is the most fun but I can't disclose why until you hear it live," said the banjoist. " 'Good Morning Good Morning' is not hard to play but hard to memorize.

The India-inspired 'Within You, Without You' was the one that took the most pondering. It took a while before I realized how I wanted to do it. Now I'm very excited about it.

"It's also been a great pleasure to work with our guest performers. Half the songs feature non-band members on instruments such as accordion or violin, and a hand full of singers."

The seeds of Primate Fiasco were planted 33 years after the John-Paul-George-and-Ringo- created "Sgt. Pepper," when Dello-Russo responded to an ad for a banjo player at Six Flags in West Springfield, even though he didn't know how to play the instrument. After quickly learning a few chords, he somehow became park's the full time Dixieland banjoist for two summers.

A couple of years later, Dello-Russo found himself in Arizona searching for like-minded musicians for some experimental jazz jamming; the kind of free-thinking players who would enjoy creating New Orleans versions of Sublime, Doors, Neil Young, or perhaps, the Beastie Boys.

"The word 'impossible' came up with everyone I tried recruiting," Dello-Russo recalled. "Jazz musicians would not buy the idea. So I found classical musicians and we learned together." The Primate Fiasco was born.

This past summer, Primate Fiasco wowed the audience at the annual Transperformance at Look Park in Northampton with a 15-minute medley rendition of Pink Floyd's "The Wall."

"That's when I realized that this band was up to the task," said Dello-Russo, who sees his bandmates taking his original vision to a new level.

"We've really stepped out of our comfortable roles. This project is the first time some of us have sung with this band or taken on the role of arranging. I'm really impressed with some of the hidden talents that exist in this group."

It is getting better all the time for Primate Fiasco, Dello-Russo says.

"We moved here from Arizona late in 2006. In a matter of months, we went from sidewalk busking to a sold-out performance at the Iron Horse."

They've since recorded with The Neilds, Amity Front, Gin Blossoms, and Adam Sweeny and shared the stage with The Dirty Dozen, NRBQ, Arlo Guthrie, and Erin McKeown.

They've also headlined at the Taste of Amherst and appeared at the Green River Festival and the prestigious Falcon Ridge Folk Fest.

"My vision for the band is to break down labels, isms, types, styles, clicks, genres, and anything else that creates the 'us-and-them' mentality which is so damaging in today's culture," Dello-Russo said.

"I want to perform for more children, more old people, and more college students who couldn't tell you the difference between jazz and techno.

"Give me a room full of punks, hippies, children, and elderly and I'll give you the phrase 'Tastes Like chicken.' "

What: The Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band"

Who: Primate Fiasco

When: Tomorrow 10 p.m.

Where: The Iron Horse Music Hall, 20 Center St., Northampton

Tickets: $10 (advance); $13 (at the door)

How: (413) 586-8686; www.iheg.com

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