Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Come Together

RAIN – A Tribute to the Beatles
23 January 2011: EJ Thomas Hall, Akron, Ohio

Honestly, when we purchased our season subscription to Broadway in Akron, none of us were entirely sure what RAIN was, other than something involving the Beatles. Although, in reality, it’s nothing more than a tribute band show, that’s selling it a bit short.

I find it fascinating that the Broadway reviews of RAIN all seem to talk about it being another way for aging baby boomers to relive the glory days of the Beatles and their catalog. While the show at EJ Thomas Hall was primarily boomers, there was a healthy 19-and-under contingent in attendance – including my kiddo. Tracy has been under the weather, so I took Jack with me. He’s been to concerts before (The Black Keys, Bob Dylan, Jake Shimabukuro), he’s been to theater productions before, and he digs the Beatles, but this was a funky little mix of all those things.

Beginning with their arrival on American soil for the historic Ed Sullivan Show appearance and using the musicians’ costume changes as signposts, the show moves in rough chronological order through the Beatles career. And, as proven repeatedly throughout the years, it’s difficult to find a Beatles tune that isn’t instantly recognizable, so nearly every song was a sing-along affair.

In the same way it’s difficult to comprehend how The Greatest Generation literally saved the world, I struggle to wrap my head around just how seismic the musical paradigm shift was when the Beatles arrived. In context of the times, it’s amazing to think about these teenagers’ minds being completely blown by an aesthetic and sound that had never been seen or heard previously, and what that experience must have been like. I don’t know that there will ever be another popular cultural revolution like it. You could argue things like the rise of personal computers or the internet, but those weren’t specific moments in time to our collective conscience. We can accurately point to the Beatles’ first appearance on Ed Sullivan as the exact instant at which music changed.

The timelessness of the Beatles catalog is as impressive as its near-universal familiarity. The entire hall was rocking throughout, singing along, clapping, people standing up and dancing. While perhaps not as fervent as a true Beatles show back in the day, the night crackled with energy.

The sparse sets were unobtrusive, with the focus primarily on the musicians and music, and the three projection screens to enhance the experience. From the Ed Sullivan period, the performers took the audience through the Shea Stadium concert,
the Sgt. Pepper era, the Abbey Road and rooftop concert years, and more.

The Fab Four of RAIN did a great job approximating their respective Beatles. Our seats were just far enough away to help maintain the illusion that they just might have been the real Beatles up on the stage. Along with our John, Paul, George, and Ringo, there is also a fifth on stage each night on keyboards to supplement the show. In the RAIN franchise there are three to four different John, Paul, George, and Ringos who tour or perform on Broadway, along with a pair of keyboardists. In a nice hometown touch, our “Paul” was a Northeast Ohio native, Robert “Mac” Ruffing.

With half of the original group now gone and already multiple generations past the group’s working period, it’s easier to make the argument for this tribute band than for something like a KISS or Aerosmith tribute band because there is simply no other way to hear Beatles music live. And while I’m sure it’s possible, you’d have to work pretty hard to come up with a crappy setlist. (Although the kiddo desperately wanted RAIN to play “Yellow Submarine” – they didn’t. But I think the “When I’m 64” sing-along helped smooth things over for him.) I guess you’re pretty much guaranteed a standing ovation if you’re doing it right, and that’s just what the cast of RAIN got when they came through Akron.

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