When asked who they’d like to go back in time to see in concert, a lot of people say, “The Beatles”. Which would be such a wasted opportunity to break the laws of physics!
The Beatles were a great band, obviously, but live? Pick The Who, The Stones, or Hendrix instead. Or even The Kinks. Heck, pick Paul McCartney and Wings! Any of those would be so much better than the mass hysteria and constant high-pitched screaming that was a Beatles concert. You’d barely be able to see and certainly couldn’t hear the band. They couldn’t even hear themselves. There is a reason they stopped touring.
And so, The Beatles leave a legacy of great albums that they never performed live, or performed only poorly. A great big, blank canvas into which many a tribute act has followed.
As a teenager, I saw Beatlemania in Toronto, a tribute that mixed film with live music to cover the history of the Beatles. And in Timmins, I saw another, more straight-up Beatles tribute band, just playing a concert at a hockey arena. More recently, one of the best Jeans’n’Classics concerts I’ve ever seen was based around the Beatles Abbey Road album, featuring Rik Emmett and Alan Frewe, among others. Las Vegas’ Beatles Love show, by Cirque du Soleil, was both touching and astounding. Less successful was Classic Albums Live tribute to Sgt. Pepper, as the efforts at reproducing the album so exactly seem to take all the life out of the live performance.
So I was a little worried about Classical Mystery Tour, as the pre-show interviews emphasized how they went back to the original albums and tried to re-create the symphonic score. I also wasn’t too sure what to think when I saw the odd stage setup, with the symphony fairly far back on the stage, behind sound barriers.
But from the opening notes of “Got to Get You into My Life”, the cast quickly put my fears to rest. They were interactive, relaxed, somewhat improvisational—all around very entertaining. They did provide a reasonable simulation of what might have happened had the actual Beatles ever been able to play their songs live with a symphony, and without all the squealing.
They came out initially garbed in Ed Sullivan Show-style suits, then during “Yesterday”, everyone but “Paul” left the stage, and came back in Sgt. Pepper gear. (“Paul” caught up with them partway through the next number.) Highlights of the first half included hearing the amazing Larry Larson on the “Penny Lane” trumpet solo; “A Little Help from my Friends” as sung by their drummer, a much better vocalist than Ringo; and a searing performance of my favorite Beatles song, “A Day in the Life”, which closed out the first half.
It was a pretty good turnout for the show, but it seemed to me that the crowd was a bit subdued—at least those in front and beside me. Who were probably mostly symphony subscribers first, Beatles fans second.
Nevertheless, everyone really seemed to get into it during the second, with “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” turning into a major clap-along, singalong, fun-fest that mostly continued into “Yellow Submarine”. Since I’ve been reporting on clothes, I’ll say that this half featured the hippie Beatles look, complete with John’s white suit, long hair, and mustaches.
They also broke out of the strictly Beatles format and gave us “Live and Let Die”, one of the numbers that best took advantage of the symphonic power available. For fairness, we also got “Imagine”. We weren’t sure if there would be encores at this type of show, but there were 2 or 3, actually. The first was “Hey Jude” (after a bit of a humorous false start, as “George” struggled to get guitar plugged in, prompting a do-over: At least we know it was all live), which of course become another singalong, men vs. women at one point. (“Paul” declared the women had it.)
Then we had just the band on “Twist and Shout”, for which the audience stayed on their feet dancing, and “whoo-ing” along at all the appropriate times. And “Can’t Buy Me Love” to close out the show.
Definitely one of the most fun symphony concerts I’ve ever been to.
Our programs didn’t include the set list, so the first half is approximate, based on what I recalled at intermission. The second half, I actually wrote down as we went.
- KW Symphony – Beatles medley, including “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”
- Got to Get You Into My Life
- I Saw Her Standing There
- A Hard Day’s Night
- All You Need Is Love
- Eleanor Rigby
- Penny Lane
- Here Comes the Sun
- Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band / A Little Help from My Friends
- A Day in the Life
- Magical Mystery Tour
- I Am the Walrus
- Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
- Yellow Submarine
- Come Together
- Dear Prudence
- The Long and Winding Road
- Live and Let Die
- Golden Slumbers / Carry That Weight
- Hey, Jude
- Can’t Buy Me Love