By Blake Baxter
It has been nearly fifty years since four wide-eyed Liverpudillans kick started the British Invasion, over forty years since they grew apart and split up, and over thirty since their most magnetic personality was gunned down in cold blood. Time, however, is irrelevant, because The Beatles’ influence is everlasting. Proof of this is everywhere; from band names to memorabilia to the music we listen to today, The Beatles impact is felt in ways that are both apparent and indirect. There have been movies, books and, once even, a television series dedicated to both the band’s impressive discography and its even more celebrated mythology.
To me, one of the most amusing byproducts of the never-ending ripple effect of Beatlemania has been all of the talented musicians that have put aside creating original music in favor of solely performing the work of The Beatles. This phenomenon began in the 1970s and has done nothing but grow since. In fact, it has expanded in both scope (some shows have gone to Broadway) and in creativity (there is a Beatles-Beastie Boys combination tribute and a Beatles-Metallica combination tribute). These kinds of shows aren’t particularly hard to find, but if you come across a quality band/production they are entirely worth your while. Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles is among the best-regarded Beatles tribute concerts, and it was one that I would highly recommend.
The act, which according to the band’s website, began modestly in the mid-70s, “performing at clubs and amusement parks in Southern California”. However, the band stuck with it, sustained lineup changes and made it all the way to Broadway in 2010. Their show, like many Beatles tributes, is a mix of memorable Beatles songs and an impressive array of costumes, but what differentiates it from other tributes is that Rain is a multimedia experience.
Imagine: The lights are out, the stadium is (ideally) packed, the crowd is buzzing, and then two large screens light up and a voice proclaims that you are about to go back in time. The video plays and you see charmingly innocuous commercials from the 1950s, as well as icons of the pre-Beatles era like Little Richard and Elvis Presley. As you begin to get a feel for the era the mood begins to change a little. The images start coming faster and you get the feeling that you’re about to go on an adventure until suddenly it’s February 1964 and an emerging band from England is about to play on the seminal variety program of the time, The Ed Sullivan Show. Finally, Ed Sullivan says the words that the crowd has been waiting to hear: “Ladies and gentlemen, The Beatles!” And the show begins.
They obviously aren’t really The Beatles, but they perform with the cheeky wit and vigor that the Beatles had during that era. They play their earliest hits – “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “Please, Please, Me,” “From Me to You” and the like – all upbeat pop numbers with basic chord progressions. They are wearing matching suits and sporting the iconic moptop haircut. The crowd of screaming fans that is always associated with this period is artificially placed on a screen behind the band, but is occasionally replaced by images of the actual crowd. It’s a simple trick but it makes for a cool and effective aesthetic; fans never get tired of seeing their faces behind the most popular band of 1964.
Everyone exits stage left, except for “Paul” who grabs an acoustic guitar and sings the most covered song in history, the melancholy “Yesterday”. It’s the first song they play that isn’t made of pure bubble gum. Could it be a sign that this cultural (and commercial) phenomenon has a chance at actually creating impressionable art?
The crowd’s attention turns, again, to the screens. The dated commercials are a bit more modern, and to me, vaguely familiar. The music, though, is very recognizable – The Kinks, The Mama’s and the Papa’s, Jimi Hendrix, etc. When the band re-emerges, dressed in black pants and matching coats, it is August 1965 and they’re about to perform the famous Concert at Shea Stadium. They continue to play catchy anthems like “Twist and Shout” and “Day Tripper,” except there is an air of maturity in this batch of songs; there is a noticeable difference in tone from the sweet but simple “She Loves You,” the catchy but paranoid “Help”. At the time, the general public didn’t realize it, but The Beatles were growing out of the signature style that had made them a sensation. This audience, however, has the benefit of hindsight and knows what is coming next.
After their next wardrobe change, (and intermission) they return in Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band costumes and magnificent mustaches. The album is widely regarded as the band’s magnum opus; the era, their creative peak. They also play popular singles and songs from Revolver, which is among their strongest material. This is when The Beatles were at their most experimental and find their most diverse sound. They churned out masterpieces like “Tomorrow Never Knows,” “Strawberry Fields Forever,” and “A Day in the Life,” as well as popular lighter classics like “When I’m 64” and “With a Little Help From My Friends”. Rain gamely hits all the high points, but I couldn’t help but notice that something seemed a little bit off.
Midway through the band’s Abbey Road set, which featured songs from The Beatles (better known as “The White Album”, Abbey Road, and Let it Be, I realize what is bothering me – and I can’t believe I never made the connection at other Beatles tribute bands. Rain is playing Beatles songs from their mid-to-late period, a time when the band experimented heavily with drugs, became interested in Indian culture, experienced a backlash after John Lennon said that The Beatles were “more popular than Jesus” and started to drift apart due to contemptuous infighting within the group. They weren’t exactly fresh-faced, fun loving pop stars anymore; they were extremely accomplished but tortured artists. Rain, however, is enthusiastically bopping around as if they just arrived in America for the first time. It seemed incongruous; there’s no way that is how The Beatles would have performed at the time, I think. And then it hits me: The Beatles definitely didn’t perform like that because these are all songs they recorded after they stopped touring. It’s a pretty minor quibble, considering that there’s no way to accurately represent their performance demeanor from the time.
If this does bother you, though, you are in luck. The Beatles’ discography features such a variety of distinct sounds and moods in their songs that you can choose to ignore their appearance and get lost in the music because Rains sounds great (particularly the musician who is “John”). The Beatles were one of those rare bands that have songs perfect for every mood and occasion (all of my other favorite bands tend to be like this, too – Say Anything, Arctic Monkeys, etc.). Rain plays a little bit of everything; you can get on your feet and clap you hands to the more rambunctious jams, sing-along to the irresistibly silly songs or tilt your head back and let the layered sounds of their most advanced work wash over you.
After the show is “over,” Rain dutifully shows up for their encore, but throws a curve ball by playing John Lennon’s solo hit “Give Peace a Chance,” followed by always-required touchstones, “Let it Be” and “Hey Jude”. It’s 1970 now, but it’s almost 2013 again. The Beatles are about to disband, but it’s obvious that they aren’t truly ever going away. Their legacy will live on through Rain and other bands interested in paying tribute to the most popular, fascinating and influential music group of all time.
Blake Baxter is a native of Illinois and a 2013 graduate of Eureka College. He currently covers the Carolina Panthers for Football.com and previously covered college basketball for ESPN Louisville during the 2012-13 season. He has also written about sports, pop culture and politics for The College Fix, The Wine and Cheese Crowd and an assortment of newspapers. Blake works in the communication and marketing field for Technical Solutions & Services, but aspires to write full-time someday.