It was 43 years ago today
Sgt Pepper taught the band to play
They’ve been going in and out of style
But they’re guaranteed to raise a smile
Indeed, 43 years ago today, on August 26, 1964, the Beatles performed a concert at Red Rocks, a beautiful natural amphitheater above Denver. Last night, a Beatles tribute band named “1964” performed at Red Rocks. This tribute band looks like, sounds like, moves like, and sings like the Beatles. They used authentic costumes and instruments.
I’ve seen a number of Beatles tribute bands over the decades, but this was by far the best. In fact, back in 1964, my brother, sister, and cousin did a Beatles “karaoke” at the school talent show. Of course, we won! I played Paul, left-handed, to be sure.
This band is unique, though, in that they confine their repertoire to the music of the early Beatles rather than the entire canon. While this limits them to pre-Sgt. Pepper music, it allows them to play some often neglected tunes that other cover bands don’t do. The evening took me back to that night on February 9, 1964, as we sat in front of the TV and watched Ed Sullivan introduce us to The Beatles.
The band even mimicked the stance. John had the wide horse stance with the tapping left foot, Paul had the trademark head bobble, George the stiff stance with one knee out, and Ringo had the head nod and occasional tilt. They even did the signature deep bow after each song. By the way, for a mop top tribute of a different kind, catch the movie “That Thing You Do” where Tom Hanks, the band’s manager, instructs the boys to bow.
Their songs were practically pitch-perfect, a close approximation to the Beatles studio work. Ironically, they played better than the Beatles played during their live performances when they could barely hear themselves sing above the screaming fans. Indeed, a few years ago, when I caught Paul McCartney at the Denver Pepsi Center in his first concert back in Denver since then, he mentioned that his last time in the area was when they performed at Red Rocks. “But we could barely finish a half hour set… because we couldn’t breathe!” Indeed, Denver is a mile high, but Red Rocks is even higher, at an elevation of 6,200 feet.
This band, “1964,” did a two-hour set, including the break. Compare this to the original show, with a warm-up by the Righteous Brothers and Jackie de Shannon, with the Beatles playing for about 25 minutes. This band has been doing this for 23 years, 7 times at Carnegie Hall and at other original Beatles venues, plus Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr have their CD. They originally played Red Rocks 3 years ago, in 2004, on the 4oth anniversary of the Beatles’ original concert here. “John” is performed by Mark Benson, “Paul” by Gary Grimes (he even has the arched eyebrows correct), “George” by Tom Work, and “Ringo” by Terry Manfred.
Their singing was outstanding, and their speaking accents were good, but I did catch a few non-Liverpudlian pronounced words from Paul. John did the kind of light-hearted banter you’d expect, and it was spot on.
- I Want To Hold Your Hand
which was a hit not only in the UK and US but in Germany as well, as the band recorded it in German too.
- Please Please Me
followed that, another #1 for the band in 1963, with curiously and to fans’ consternation, was not on the recent compendium of Beatles #1 hits called, ironically, “The Beatles 1.”
- From Me to You
was their next tune, followed by
- Thank You Girl
a song rarely covered by a tribute band.
Next, we heard George on
- Do You Want to Know a Secret
which was a #2 Billboard hit for him
- All My Loving
by Paul was spot on.
- This Boy
sung by John was quite moving. It was featured in their first movie, “A Hard Day’s Night,” as an instrumental by the name “Ringo’s Theme,” but here, John even had the facial expressions down right. He had the sideburns, the hair combed to the side, and even had his eyebrows go up in the center.
Next, Paul told us that Ringo had mentioned to him that he wanted to sing the next song in the worst way, and that was exactly how he was going to do it. Ringo wondered aloud, “Was that a left-handed compliment?” He then sang what was previously a #1 country hit for Buck Owens
- Act Naturally
This was followed by a song the Beatles never performed live
- Eight Days a Week
- A Hard Day’s Night
whose title came from a remark made by Ringo Starr. And in this rendition on stage, we got lots of cowbell.
- It’s Only Love
with John’s effortless phrasing and George’s brassy lead guitar.
- And I Love Her
with Paul singing to a cha-cha beat. He was dead on and even did Paul’s upturned chin.
- Nowhere Man
was next, sung by John, who wrote almost all of it, somewhat autobiographically.
- Can’t Buy Me Love
followed, another moving #1 tune, written while the Beatles were staying in the George V hotel in Paris.
Next, John asked the audience for the next song to stand up and sing along — as if he could stop them.
- Twist and Shout
Though not written by the Beatles became a huge hit for them and for Ferris Bueller on his day off.
The band took a break, during which strangely off-putting “ballpark organ” versions of Beatles music was played.
Mercifully, this was a short break, and they resumed with Paul saying, “one-two-three-FAH”
- I Saw Her Standing There
Then George did the classic Chuck Berry tune
- Roll Over Beethoven
- Ticket to Ride
came next from the movie Help! though Paul had a hard time hitting “my baby don’t care” at the end.
One of the most beautiful and archly autobiographical songs from Rubber Soul by John followed
- In My Life
The original had a baroque-styled piano instrumental bridge by their producer George Martin.
- And Your Bird Can Sing
from Revolver took me back to watching the Beatles cartoon show on Saturday mornings. During this song, we noticed that John seemed to have a budding double chin like Paul’s, but who doesn’t? This was followed by George singing
from Revolver, actually written by George after he discovered how much he was paying in taxes.
- Paperback Writer
which I recall was knocked off the #1 spot by Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night.” It pleased my mother at the time but not me. This song, at least, has a lovely 4-part harmony.
the B-side to the Paperback Writer single followed. Ironically, I saw one of the early tribute bands who took this title as their name perform in Disneyland in 1980. The Beatles never performed this in concert. This was the Beatles first tune with backward vocals.
- Yellow Submarine
was a huge hit in 1966 and served as the theme for the 1968 animated movie. I recall asking my father to attend with us. He didn’t like it. The song went to #1 with Ringo on lead. During this concert, we were encouraged to supply the sound of the submarine during the bridge. “Surface, surface.”
another #1 hit followed. The film, by the same name, starts this song with a James Bond intro.
- I Feel Fine
was one of the first hits to begin with guitar feedback and a wicked riff. And some conflicting reports by the Beatles themselves suggest that this is the first overt reference to LSD in one of their songs.
- She Loves You
a huge crowd pleaser had everyone on their feet. Though it was written in 1963, it set a record as one of the five Beatles hits that held the top five positions on the American charts. Like “I Want To Hold Your Hand” (Komm Gib Mir Deine Hand), it too was recorded in German as Sie Liebt Dich.
The band left the stage, with few leaving. As anticipated, they took the stage after dimmed lights with their encore.
Ringo then did
- I Wanna Be Your Man
though not one of the more memorable songs, nor deep in terms of lyrics, it has lots of energy and allowed the band a bit of jamming.
This was followed by a reminder that we had Some Fun Tonight with
- Long Tall Sally
an ironic song, to be sure. The song was originally done by Little Richard, whom the Beatles used to open for in their early days in both Liverpool and Hamburg. Paul sings this a whole step higher than the original.
As I left the amphitheater, I realized what a good time I had had. This band brought back rich memories. When I applied to history graduate school, I was told, “there’s no future in history,” but there certainly is a future for nostalgia.
This band sings the soundtrack of my youth.
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian