Let me give full disclosure: I went to see a thing called the Classical Mystery Tour last Friday night just outside of Indianapolis. It is essentially a Beatles cover band and the orchestra playing Beatles music. The title is a play on the Beatles “Magical Mystery Tour” and features a Beatlemania-type band (in fact, this tour draws from alums of that stage tour) and normally they play with the symphony orchestra from whatever town the show is in.
The night I saw them, there was no orchestra. It was at Conner Prairie, which is about an 8,000 seat natural bowl space. It was filled up. If you’ve been, you know it is also about bringing the table, the lawn chair, some good food and some wine or beer. Great vibe.
But it was one of the rare stops on this band’s 30 date (or so) schedule that didn’t have an orchestra joining them. I didn’t figure that out until I got there and saw no orchestra. Oops. How good can fake Beatles be, just themselves, a huge bandshell, and a field full of people socializing and eating amidst echoes of the the sound of the British Invasion.
Pretty damn good, is what they were. They did two sets – an hour apiece – dressed in Beatle suits for the first half, playing 1963-66 tunes. After break, they came out dressed like they just jumped out of pictures you see from the Abbey Road era, and played anything after Sgt. Pepper, including songs from that record.
And now, I can’t stop thinking about Beatles music. Nearly a week later, and I still am recalling a song that was played. I walked out of the venue around 10:15pm last Friday, and remember thinking that every damn song was a classic in songwriting, or recorded performance, and most times, it was both.
Yes, the Rolling Stones were great. Yes, I am a huge Bruce Springsteen fan. Yes, there are hundreds of musicians (Jimi Hendrix, CCR, Bob Dylan, The Kinks, Tom Petty) that wrote and recorded great rock and roll. And these artists each had one or a dozen songs that may be the definition of timeless.
But the Beatles are special because they did it with every song on every album. Throw out a couple indulgent clunkers (that probably were failed expereiments more than unispired performances) and no solo performer or band can come close to their sheer depth of catalog.
Trust me, I wasn’t headed into the show wearing a Beatles t-shirt; I was just going in as a guy who likes rock music. We forget (or take for granted) how unique and excellent their stuff is, from the basic blasts of their early pop stuff, to the hyper-produced (for it’s time) and layered psychadelic era, to the final album. With it, the band crafted the most brilliant send off ever – side two of Abbey Road, closing with “The End”
That’s why I am still looking up video’s on YouTube tonight; I want to hear their music. I spent about seven years at DJ’ing at radio stations in Michigan and Indiana, in stations that had playlists but allowed for lots of deviation if it made sense to the jock. I played the shit out of the Beatles albums. You could play any cut and hear a great song. I learned a lot about the Beatles between 7pm and midnight in the mid and late 80’s.
So I was reminded last week of how much I like them, and how unique they were. Nearly 60 years into the rock and roll era, it is evident that there will never be a more influential band than the Beatles. It just can’t happen again – rock is too far along as an artform. It’s been 45 years since they stopped playing live, and 40 years since they broke up.
The songs are brilliant, and last week at Conner Prairie, the four guys who looked just enough like the Beatles to make it work played some inspired, reverential, true-but-loose Beatle tunes. People were digging it, with about 50o or so up front on a dance floor/concrete slab. Some came up to feel like they wer at a real Beatles show, some to dance, some just to get closer and hear good a rock and roll tribute band, and some, like me, drawn by the realization that the music the original band made still sounded really good.
The cumulative effect of hearing two straight hours of 3-minute Beatles songs played by a cover band might seem like too much fake nostalgia.
Somehow, it wasn’t.
→ My favorite cut from the real Beatles Shea Stadium concert in 1965 – John even playing an organ…