Lintilla and I were lucky enough to be able to attend Friday night’s performance by “Rain” at TPAC. The Beatles tribute band was, unbeknownst to me, something Lintilla had been dying to see. She is a huge Beatles fan, especially the pre-1968 version of the band.
Thanks to Ford Prefect and family, we got out hands on a last-minute pair of tickets. (I’ll just skip over the fact that it was way too last-minute to find a sitter. But the whole “when are kids old enough to be left alone for the evening” discussion would be interesting to have at another time).
Anyway, Lintilla and I headed for TPAC Friday (Lintilla has never, believe it or not, been to a performance there). We got there in plenty of time, and loitered in the lobby till they opened the doors to Andrew Jackson Hall.
They played music from the 50’s over the PA (this was all part of the wonderful narrative of the evening), while showing Beatles trivia slides on the big screens. Then, the lights dimmed. After an hilarious announcement (“We ask that you refrain from smoking…ANYTHING…), the show began. We hear Rock Around the Clock while a fast-edited montage of scenes from the 50’s and early 60’s played in black and white on the big screen. The montage got faster and faster, as they played other 50’s songs like Johnny B Goode.
The music stopped, and there was Ed Sullivan on the screen (well, an actor playing Ed Sullivan). He introduced Rain, and the show began in earnest.
My heart skipped a beat.
Our seats were near the back of the orchestra section, so I’m sure that helped with the illusion. But, I couldn’t help but think, “It’s 1964, and I’m watching the Beatles play on Ed Sullivan”. They had the set designed perfectly, including “Applause” signs.
Rain started with I Want To Hold Your Hand. It was perfect. I watched “Paul” (for shorthand purposes, I’ll call the members of Rain by their Beatles counterparts) most of the time during that song (because it has an awesome bass line), and he nailed it. I’ve seen the original performance a gazillion times, and this Paul had the original’s every move mapped. There were a couple of differences: this Paul was right-handed, and he wore his bass a little lower than the original, but his playing was right on.
Ringo was also perfect. He had the hunched over, head bobbing motions down perfectly. John and George also had the movements and vocals down pat.
They did 4 or 5 songs from the early days (including a rousing version of I Saw Her Standing There that had the entire theater on its feet, dancing). It was during this time that I realized it was a parallel universe. They made no pretense that they were the Beatles (several times between songs, they referred to this or that Beatle in the 3rd person). It was not an impersonation, at least not in the Elvis tradition. This was, instead, a celebration. Once I got the hang of that, the show was incredibly enjoyable.
Paul, on Yesterday, and later Blackbird, sounded so much like the original, members of the audience would sometimes just scream out in appreciation. He was, as impressions go, the best vocalist. The John was probably the”least best”, but he was still pretty darned good.
After Yesterday, the curtain came down, and they ingeniously showed commercials from the early 60’s (get it? We just watched the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, now it’s time to hear from our sponsors. They showed the funniest commercials, including a Flintstones cigarette ad), and then showed scenes from the preparations for the Beatles famous concert at Shea Stadium.
Then, the curtain came up, and Rain did a set of songs from mid-1965 through 1966 or so. They did everything from In My Life to Eleanor Rigby. It was in this latter number that we first saw the 5th member or the group, who played all orchestral parts on the keyboard, along with Billy Preston’s keyboard parts. Once again, it took a minute to get used to having someone else on the stage, but after a few minutes of Eleanor Rigby, it seemed perfectly natural.
After a really sharp Shea set came an intermission. Now, I should probably mention that Lintilla and I aren’t as crazy about the post-1967 Beatles as the pre-1967 Beatles. However, we very much enjoyed Rain’s second act, which, started with a 60’s news footage montage on the big screen, culminating in the curtain coming up to the band dressed as the Beatles on Sgt Pepper’s album cover. They did the title cut, completely as it was on the record, which is no small feat with three distinct movements. Ringo was right on – if I closed my eyes I could swear I was listening to the record.
They did a wonderful version of When I’m Sixty Four, dedicated to two adorable preteen girls in the second row. They also did an ambitious version of A Day In The Life. There is a temptation during the noisy orchestral transitions to cut it short, but Rain went measure for measure. The discordance hurt the ears, but it was right.
Then came a moment of brilliance. All the members left the stage but Paul, and he did the aforementioned Blackbird. This started an acoustic set, with John joining to play an “oldie”, Girl. John was now the long haired, bespectacled late 60’s John (Lintilla thought his mannerisms were kind of like Ozzy Osborne’s) . Then George came out, the only one to wear a beard (Lintilla had visions of ‘O Brother Where Art Thou’), and started an acoustic version on While My Guitar Gently Weeps. Halfway through the song, they transitioned to a full electric version, and it was the highlight of the show. George did the familiar heavily chorused solo, and ended with a flourish that wasn’t in the original record, but was just awesome. He got a standing ovation.
They then did some latter songs like Come Together (this was Ringo’s best moment), Get Back, and others, ending with Revolution.
The audience demanded an encore, and they came back and started with Imagine. They followed that with Let It Be. It should be noted that the crowd was crazy about the latter, and warmly receptive of the former. This is highly religious, conservative Tennessee, after all. Then, they brought the house down with Hey Jude (complete with 5 minute sing-along at the end).
We left feeling like we had seen a show.
The only criticism I have is about something that’s unavoidable, I guess. During some of the more complex songs, guitar techs would actually come on stage to help the performers trade guitars. I guess there’s really no way around it (maybe that’s why the Beatles didn’t tour in the latter days), but it was somewhat distracting.
Altogether, though, it was a great performance. Part show, part concert, completely a celebration.
I’m quite thankful I got to see it.