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St. Cloud musician puts 'Pet Sounds' on stage

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Jeff Engholm is fascinated by The Beach Boys' 1966 "Pet Sounds," so much so that he scored the entire album for a live show. (MPR Photo/Tim Post)
Jeff Engholm is a man obsessed. For the last year, he's been listening almost incessantly to the Beach Boys' 1966 concept album, "Pet Sounds." Now the St. Cloud area musician has turned his fascination into a live performance.

St. Cloud, Minn. — The Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds" was a departure for the band. Instead of the surf tunes fans were used to, the album layered rich harmonies with unusual instruments. Some critics consider it one of the best rock albums ever made.

About a year ago, Jeff Engholm picked up a copy at a St. Cloud record store. It didn't leave his CD player for six months.

"I listened to it a lot," Engholm said. "It absolutely blew me away. It was one of those moments where I just was completely enthralled with it from the very first listening."

Engholm took his obsession to another level. As a musician, he wanted to present the entire album, live on stage, to an audience. So he spent more time, hundreds of hours he says, listening to "Pet Sounds." He dissected each song, writing down every note for every instrument. Engholm felt this was a piece of work that deserved a grand treatment, like an orchestral arrangement.

It's a great, great album, and no one knows it. It's the best least-known record ever.
- Jeff Engholm

"Because you have the timpani, the vibraphone, the grand piano, the Hammond organ, the string section and a wind section. It really is orchestral in scope," said Engholm. "And just the way the album moves, it truly is an album's album, it's a piece of art, and it's meant to be in its entirety."

To complete the effort, Engholm enlisted his band, Collective Unconscious, and a dozen or so other musicians from around the St. Cloud area. There are a several professional musicians helping out. Among them is drummer Jeff Vee, who plays in a backup band for his dad, 1960s rocker Bobby Vee.

"We're fairly disciplined players to begin with. We're hired to play with other people all the time, and we need to learn their songs," Vee said. "But this has taken discipline to another level, you're just playing with so many people. There's no room for anybody to experiment or throw in their own personal touches. Everyone has to stick to the game plan."

Marley Wood, 16, is playing flute and keyboards. Up until now, Wood's musical experience was limited to her high school band.

"I didn't think I could do anything like this. I've never done anything in a big band before, with all these famous people. So it's been really fun, and a great experience for me," Wood said.

Wood hadn't listened to the Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds" before getting involved in this project. Now she listens to it all the time, and loves it. That's how Jeff Engholm hopes the audience feels after the live concert.

Engholm's goal to introduce more people to the music that swept him away.

"It is a great, great album, and no one knows it. It is the best least-known record ever," Engholm said.

Engholm will conduct "Pet Sounds" live on stage at 7 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday night at St. Cloud's Paramount Theater. Another concert is planned for Saturday at the State Theatre in Zumbrota.

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