In early January, I took my son to see “Beatlemania 50: The Magical Symphony Tour” at the historic downtown New Haven Shubert Theater.
On what would have been my late mother’s 81st birthday, I took her youngest grandchild to see and hear the music of her favorite band of all time, this time being played by some guys who’ve been at it a good long time. The show marks the 50 anniversary of the band breaking up.
My mother was a “Paul fan,” which her grandson knows, along with the fact that this is what many Beatles fans did back in their heyday: chose their Beatle. My mom often cited that time-honored “Paul’s the cute one” as her reasoning.
I should mention that The Beatles wound up becoming my son’s favorite band too, and from an early age, long before he knew of his grandmother’s love for them. (She passed before his first birthday.) I’m talking pre-K.
Sure, Nirvana has begun giving the Fab Four a run for their money as far as my soon-to-be 14-year-old is concerned, but The Beatles will always be up there, and always hold a special place in his heart. They do that for many of us, don’t they?
This is how something like “Beatlemania” is able to celebrate milestones like the one we saw. A former Broadway mainstay, they’ve been performing John, Paul, George and Ringo’s music for decades now, and they’re not alone. “RAIN” is another Beatles tribute band (the superior one, in my humble opinion), and there’s dozens of others, including one that runs through the alphabet while performing Beatles tunes; a song for every letter. Almost anyway; I’m pretty sure at least one letter is skipped.
“Can you believe The Beatles are so loved that these guys get to tour and pack this place playing someone else’s songs,” my son said as we were ushered in. Little does he know that tribute bands are all the rage these days, even if Beatlemania no doubt was — arguably — the first. Even his precious Nirvana has spawned a handful of tribute bands.
“Big Shot” is a Billy Joel tribute band originally from Long Island that got so popular so quickly actual members of the then-retired Piano Man’s band began joining the fold. The act got even bigger, figuratively and literally. To the point of basically luring Joel out of retirement, who now does a residency at Madison Square Garden with “Big Shot” as his backing band. He even tapped the vocalist, the spot-on Mike DelGuidice, to not only sing right alongside him, but DelGuidice does a solo number or two on a given night as well.
In fact, The Kate in Old Saybrook is doing big business with tribute acts these days. “Tusk: The Ultimate Fleetwood Mac Tribute” closes out the month of January there. Doors tribute “Riders On The Storm” takes the stage in late February. Alex Shillo, who shares representation with Big Shot and who, like DelGuidice writes original material, will be there doing “The Music of Springsteen” to kick off February.
Water’s Edge — a Westbrook staple for decades now — has been transformed thanks to its addition of tribute act performances in the last year or two. From the Eagles to Tom Petty to Earth, Wind & Fire and Johnny Cash, people line up on the lawn (during the summer months anyway) to take in these knockoffs doing note-for-note versions of their hero’s biggest hits.
A Tom Petty tribute act played the Branford Town Green last summer — perhaps even the same one with a February Water’s Edge date scheduled - and was exceptional. Sure, sometimes the ones who go the distance and dress up like the performer whose music they’re doing can come off cheesy, and this guy bordered on that, but he went into Petty’s considerable canon with such aplomb the diehard fans were thrilled while the ones only knowing the hits got their fill too. When the occasional “rarity” or B-side was begun the roars from the aforementioned diehards could be heard in Guilford. This, too, was the case when “Big Shot” played the Branford Green on more than one occasion over the past 15 years.
As for the costumes, “Beatlemania” struggled in this department on Jan. 11. They have before, too. Some of the wigs are outlandish to the point of laughable. “George” even said as much. In fact, at one point my son even suggested that John’s was so bad it was affecting his ability to enjoy the song being sung - one of my favorites too: “Across The Universe.” The symphony elevated that particular song, however; even more so than it does on the record it first appeared on, “Let It Be.”
He asked why they felt they needed to bother dressing like them at all, that the music was strong enough to stand on its own. I, of course, agree, but know that the novelty of “seeing the Fab Four” is a fun part of the experience for many. Just not necessarily us.
The symphony also delivered on McCartney’s “Yesterday,” to the point of standing ovation. It was quite the moment - emotional even - a testament to the band’s legacy, and perhaps even the dressing up to perform it. In an “aw shucks” moment “Paul” asked the crowd if they were only doing that because he’s “the cute one.”
My son and I exchanged wide-eyed glances, and in that moment felt as if we were with someone else — someone glad the musician dressed the part.