Monday, June 28, 2010

A Day in the Life - A Night in the Underground

June 27, 2010

The Beatles and Elvis
If you saw the movie Pulp Fiction, you may remember the conversation Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) have at Jack Rabbit Slims just before their twist dance. Mia states that everyone is either an Elvis fan or a Beatles fan… you can’t be both. Although I would be the first to agree (for the most part) with her assessment, there are a very very few of us that really enjoy both.

The Beatles and Elvis each defined a decade and their fans are terribly possessive, each in their own way. Their respective impersonator/tribute band fan-bases are a bit forgiving. They enjoy the memories, the songs, and the whirlwind of nostalgia that whips through a venue whenever their respective ‘favorites songs’ are played. It is for this reason you see so many impersonators/tribute bands that aren’t exactly ‘right on’ vocally, musically, or visually but still maintain unfailing loyalty from the fans. To this fan base NO person can recreate the magic of the King or the Fab Four, so they really don’t expect them to. No priest could walk across water or turn water into wine… so what’s the use in expecting it?

For those that perform exclusively for these audiences (at conventions, contests, and showcases,) the unending accolades and standing ovations can be a sweet assumption!

I, on the other hand, have spent the majority of my two decades as a professional entertainer singing, performing and impersonating in front of much more critical and discerning audiences. Nothing against my brother Elvi on the contest circuit, there just aren’t that many contests and opportunities between Chicago and Las Vegas. I’ve been forced to take on a greater breadth of characters, a wider scope of eras and a more challenging range of styles – from big band to 90’s. At times, this eclecticism has made me ‘persona non grata’ in the Elvis circles, but that’s for another blog… this one’s not about me.

Okay… after all that verbal foreplay I’m finally getting to the meat of what I wanna say.

The presence, charisma, and vocal magic of Elvis… and the harmonies, absolute musicality and soul of the Beatles are all terribly, terribly difficult to recreate for a non-fan-base audience! You have no idea how difficult! This was evident and fully in play in a show I saw tonight.

Tonight the “Captain Quirk and Friends” performed the Abbey Road Show at the Soiled Dove Underground club. It was a fundraiser for Craig Hospital and PHAMALY (a wonderful organization that assists those with a wide range of disabilities.) I am better than casually familiar with a number of the musicians. The drummer, Larry Ziehl, is one of the finest percussionists I have ever worked with, and is the drummer for my band Sock Hop. Keyboardist Donna Debreceni (again, one of the finest in her field) and the equally talented Mitch Jervis and I have worked together before and aren’t members of my band only because I can’t afford them and their schedules are too booked. Austin Hein on bass I knew by reputation. So I assumed the show would be good.

I was wrong.

It was SPECTACULAR… GREAT…. AWESOME… choose your adjective! The harmonies were spot-on (which is not an easy task with Beatles’ songs!) Mitch’s guitar licks and Larry’s tempos were not only note-for-note precise, but the subtle inflections and hits were straight off the record albums. I have never ever enjoyed hearing cover songs as much as I did tonight. I almost feel guilty pointing out only a few musicians because each person on stage was just as professional and entertaining as the next. There is no keyboardist with the talent, spunk, and energy of the Awesome Goddess herself, Donna! The vocalists – Dan Langhoff and Regan Linton were both of a level that they could be the lead in any band. I was a bit disappointed the soundman didn’t have the bass levels a bit higher (considering how McCartney’s bass was such a mainstay of Beatles songs) and from what I could hear, Mr. Hein was every bit up to the caliber of the other band members. But aside from that, I couldn’t find any noticeable shortcomings in the entire 2-hour show.

And it wasn’t as if they leaned back on the 5-chord blues basics of the early 60’s. They took on the complex, intricate and impossible tempo-changing songs like “A Day In The Life” and “Dig a pony!” The highlight, for me was hearing “Because” – starting with the keys…vocals and Mitch’s guitar only (a subtle, almost imperceptible tempo being playing - almost inaudibly -by Larry.) As in the original, the rest of the band fills it out about halfway through. It was intoxicatingly beautiful!

No matter how good a vocalist you are, there is a wonderful security when you know there are brass, keys, guitar, bass and drums to help mute any possible mistakes you may make. To go out there acapella (or very nearly to it) you are really hanging yourself out there… just begging to have your faults displayed for all the world! It’s the vocal equivalent of walking onstage bare naked! So I heard that opening riff of Because and thought…wow! Are they really gunna’ try ‘n pull this off? Most bands and singers wouldn’t even go NEAR that song! But they attacked it with the charisma and confidence they showed in every other one of their songs! And sure enough, they nailed that…. song, harmonies and all!

I’ve heard concert performances by Ringo and McCartney, and even they don’t sound like the original recordings. In fact they don’t even try to replicate the original versions. As someone who has made his living trying to replicate styles, inflections, and ‘tonality’ as one director described it… I can tell you it is exasperatingly difficult to replicate anywhere close to such well-known and often heard legends as Neil Diamond, Nat King Cole, Orbison, Holly, Louie Armstrong, and Dean Martin. The Beatles and Elvis? That’s a whole level higher still! And every musician on stage… Larry on drums, Donna on keys, Austin on bass, Mitch on guitar and the melodic voices of Dan and Regan accomplished the task with command and apparent ease. Even Larry took a shot at vocals with Octopus’ Garden and did better than Ringo. Okay, that’s not saying that much. Okay.. Larry was GOOD! As was Donna with her vocal lead. (A little Help?!.. not sure)

The Abbey Roadshow was a unique and magical once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – the chance to hear exactly the songs you want, exactly the way you want to hear them. It felt like a private performance of favorite songs flawlessly played! It was a show I would return to time and again, just to hear the melodies… to hear the Beatles as the Beatles should be played!

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