Lyz Luke (photo: Jon Bauer)
Thank God Lyz Luke realized she hated Care Bears.
She says this — almost exactly this — one sunny Sunday afternoon at Zoo Labs in West Oakland. Just over a decade ago, she left her job at a PR firm in New York — that represented, yes, American Greetings — and decamped to the Mission when family matters brought her to California.
Luke is the co-founder of UnderCover Presents, an organization dedicated to galvanizing the Bay Area music scene around reinterpretations of classic albums. Luke wants to make it clear she’s not a musician — “music enabler” is, officially, her job title — but together with an ever-rotating team of local musicians, producers, directors, and artists, she helps facilitate tributes to classic records, produced entirely by and for the San Francisco Bay Area.
UnderCover came into being one night seven years ago. She was up late, really late, like after-midnight late, and found herself in a GChat conversation with a friend from the neighborhood — Charith Premawardhana, also the founder of Classical Revolution. “I do my better writing after midnight, and he’s awake super late ‘cause he’s got gigs all the time.” She asked him, by way of smalltalk, what he was doing for his next residency. He was thinking of doing a whole album, he said. Luke floated the idea of incorporating local vocalists into the project. “And then we stayed up for like four hours, and we wound up listening to the Velvet Underground and Nico album over and over again.” They eventually went to bed, slept for the few hours of night that were left, then met up at Revolution Cafe to develop a game plan.
It turns out, people liked their late-night idea. “All of a sudden, this giant buzz started building around it,” says Luke. “The first show sold out immediately, we added a second show, and that sold out immediately.” It was held at Coda, now Brick & Mortar Music Hall. On opening night, the line extended around the block. “We had to turn people away, it was crazy.”
Seven years later, UnderCover Presents is no longer a sleep-deprived idea hashed out over GChat, but a fiscally supported nonprofit, having produced at least one show a year since their inaugural event. In the past, they’ve paid tribute to works like Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited and Bob Marley’s Exodus. This weekend, they’re taking on a different animal entirely: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Flyer for the event (photo: Jon Bauer)
It’s by far the most well-known album they’ve ever done, but even as the city is choked with events celebrating the 50th anniversary of 1967 (in addition to Sgt. Pepper’s’ release, the Summer of Love drew thousands to San Francisco), they’d be remiss if they skipped it for something else. “It’d be this or it’d be the White Album next year,” says Luke. UnderCover has so far stuck to records that straddle the line between critical adoration and mass appeal, like Sly and the Family Stone’s Stand! and Bjork’s Homogenic. “For a lot of people, either you’re super-into Bjork or