It takes a special kind of cover band to call for the services of a symphony orchestra. But that's what you need if you're going to perform Beatles songs reflecting the range of their career, not just the "She Loves You" era. Who would have the nerve to play "A Day in the Life" without that final massive chord that's been resonating for almost 50 years?
The four lads of Classical Mystery Tour: A Tribute to the Beatles don't travel with an orchestra, though. So when they're in San Francisco next week, they'll be playing and singing with our great San Francisco Symphony, conducted by the band's Martin Herman. I can hear the strings on "Eleanor Rigby" now.
The faux Fab Four -- Jim Owen, Tony Kishman, David John and Chris Camilleri -- even look a bit like John, Paul, George and Ringo, respectively. They've got the moves down as well: Paul's happy head bobbing; Ringo's relaxed way of playing his (now laughably small) drum kit. They've worked hard to inhabit their characters, if I can put it that way, and I look forward to seeing and hearing them. And the symphony! I'll bet the orchestra's terrific brass section can't wait to lay into "Got to Get You Into My Life" (da-da-ta-da-da-DAA), and I can't wait to hear it.
At the same time, it's going to be a little weird to see the parts of the show replicating a concert that never was. The Beatles, as we all know (don't we?), broke up in 1970 and stopped touring five years earlier. (Their last public performance was on the roof of the Apple offices in early 1969.) We saw them in their matching gray suits with the black-trimmed collars on the Ed Sullivan Show, or at Candlestick Park or the Hollywood Bowl if we were lucky. But they only wore those magical military outfits in gaudy yellow, magenta, turquoise or deep orange on the cover of the St. Pepper's album; those white tuxedos, in Magical Mystery Tour, the movie.
The Beatles are going to remain the "best-selling music artists in the United States" for a long, long time, probably forever: The Recording Industry Association of America has certified the band with 178 million "shipped units" (rather than sales) of albums -- well above Garth Brooks's 135 million and Michael Jackson's 76 million. Their songs are still in the soundtrack of our lives. It's not just nostalgia or wish-we-could-have-been-there; these are great, great songs, proudly recreated note for note, by a band that's performed them with more than 100 orchestras since 1996.
Summer with the Symphony is always a surprise. Last year, the highlight for me was, as you could tell, Pink Martini. This year -- although the final playbill includes movies plus music (J.J. Abrams's Star Trek, with Michael Giacchino's score, July 20; and The Spy Who Loved Me, with Sheena Easton singing Music from the Bond Films & Favorite Spy Movie Themes, July 23), plus Russian Favorites, conducted by Edwin Outwater, July 24 -- it's the Classical Mystery Tour for me.
July 25-26, Davies Symphony Hall, Grove Street between Franklin and Van Ness, S.F., 415.864.6000, sfsymphony.org.summer.
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