This is not the greatest song in the world, No
This is just a tribute.” – Tenacious D
Tribute bands are nothing new, nor are they particularly unique. In fact, I’m sure that on any given Friday night here in St. Louis you could drive around and find some local musicians performing exact song facsimiles of the artists they love.
Tribute bands are like lo-cal substitutes of your favorite foods, and if you can’t have exactly what you want, a little “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Van Halen” will do in a pinch.
Perhaps nobody does the tribute thing better than Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles. The group was in St. Louis for two shows last Friday and Saturday at the Fox Theatre.
Rain has performed in many incarnations for years and even enjoyed a recent successful run on Broadway (the group is an official offshoot of the notorious Broadway show “Beatlemania”).
More than just ripping through The Beatles’ catalog, Rain takes us through the iconic moments in the band’s career, donning the various outfits and hairstyles and matching stagecraft mirroring their performance on the “Ed Sullivan Show,” their concert in Shea Stadium, the Sgt. Pepper era and so on.
The band consists of Steve Landes as John Lennon, Joey Curatolo as Paul McCartney, Joe Bithorn as George Harrison, and Ralph Castelli as Ringo Starr and each admirably embodies his particular counterpart both vocally and instrumentally.
The “cast” performed all of the songs themselves (with an onstage assist on keyboards and percussion by Mark Beyer) including several tricky studio recordings that The Beatles never even performed live themselves. Kudos are in order for a nearly flawless rendition of a personal favorite, “I Am the Walrus.”
Video screens on either side of the stage functioned as reminders of the times that shaped The Beatles, starting with the Camelot of JFK’s America through the Civil Rights Era, the Summer of Love, and into Vietnam.
The show was very well done and there was an undeniable joy at hearing such great music performed live, but you could tell there was a little spark of magic missing as the energy level was significantly lower than at a typical, full-calorie concert.
Perhaps an age average that crept into the mid-60s was to blame, but the audience had to repeatedly be goaded to “clap your hands” or “get on your feet.” Only during the “Hey Jude” finale and a full-chorus sing-a-long of “Na-na-na-nanana” did the show resemble a real-live concert.
I found my greatest enjoyment came from those moments when if you cocked your head and squinted your eyes John Lennon and George Harrison were alive once again and the greatest band in rock ‘n roll sang together as if for the first time and the possibility existed for even more great music in the future.
Unfortunately, these moments were always fleeting and you realized you were just watching a bunch of dudes that really like The Beatles.
If anything Rain serves to put The Beatles, a band we often take for granted, in its proper historical context. In a mere eight years, they went from a pop music sensation with an impressive collection of catchy tunes to making the remarkable transition to one of the most innovative bands in music history with some songs that are still ahead of their time.
The Beatles are so unprecedented that even dreaming up an equivalent is incomprehensible. It would be like Lady Gaga turning around and releasing “Abbey Road.” Our heads would explode.
Reminding us of all this is probably Rain’s greatest attribute. They are not the greatest band in the world. No, they are just a tribute.