There are times where you know a show is going to be good. There are other times when you approach a show with a sense of trepidation. I approached the Second Annual Beatles Tribute night with a sense of both, and I walked away clean, assuaged of any fears, happy to be alive. I had found out long after the fact about last years event and happened upon some of Sun Ghost’s videos and The Vanjacks recordings and I couldn’t believe I had missed it. Once I found out that it was happening again, I knew it was going to be an event not to be missed. Plus, the lineup this year simply couldn’t be beat: The Vanjacks (well, The Vanjeatles), Future Loves Past, 88MPH, Japhy’s Descent and Sun Ghost, all assigned to amazing albums for each to interpret. This was going to be an evening of fun for both the bands involved and the audience, indeed fun was had, more than I thought possible for both sides of the fence. It’s been a long time coming, the event in question took place on November 4th at the Rogue, but I’ve had to let that evening settle into my soul to even discuss it, it’s also been enough time for videos and recordings to emerge as well, I can only hope as time rolls on, even more of the recordings surface (*cough* Sun Ghost *cough* 88MPH *ahem*). Anyone that was there could tell you how utterly mindblowing the performances were–the audience was amazing, the vibe was right and the bands were in top form. I can’t even imagine what year three will be like next November, but I’m happy to wait to find out.
The evening began with the The Vanjacks, who with the addition of a fifth member and friend on vocals became the Vanjeatles for the evening, started things off right with selections from The White Album. It was the perfect way to start the evening as they roared into the night with “Revolution” which was decidedly the single version and not the slow album version and commented as such, I think most will agree that the album version of that song is just not the way to go. “While My Guitar Gently Sleeps” was up next with a very nearly spot on performance and a searing lead guitar that matched the original note for note. “Yer Blues” was presented with a blues growl and it got even bluesier than the original, which made me think what a great song it could have been originally if the Beatles had just let loose and given into the delta devil just waiting to convert that song into something darker, something grittier. They slowed it down a pace or two to present one of my favorites and one of their best, slower performances, “I’m So Tired.” It didn’t allow a long time for the crowd to rest in the least as a fantastically manic “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide” exploded from the stage and it made me wonder if The Vanjacks had heard the brilliant Feelies cover of this tune, because it seemed more in line with that than the original, if nothing else for pace and tempo alone. “Helter Skelter” may well have been the peak of the set or it certainly seemed so at the time, the band was in top form, the vocals were great and everybody in the audience was losing their mind. “Dear Prudence” was the last slow song and they nailed it, it was the last break from insanity for the rest of the set as they closed out with two sing-a-long numbers that left us all breathless, sweaty and shaking, “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La Da” and the monumental closer, the only exception to The White Album, “Hey Jude.” And this was only the start.
Future Loves Past was up next who were set to present selections from Rubber Soul, or as I like to refer to it, the first truly great Beatles album. I had already heard them do other Beatles covers at various gigs around town before and, with that in mind, I simply could not wait for this set. I sensed this would be epic and I was not wrong. All in all, they played six selections from Rubber Soul and one set venerated favorite from Let It Be and in the end the result was absolutely amazing. They opened the set with a true and tried version “Run For Your Life,” which is one of my favorite mid-period numbers from the Fab Four and the nailed it from the vocals to the hints of country tinge to every detail that made the song as dangerous and rocking as it was when it first came out. It was a hell of a way to start a set and it further launched the evening into the stratosphere. They followed this up with “Nowhere Man” with reverbed psychedelic vocals that John Lennon himself would have been proud to hear, the audience responded with the dreamy haze they induced and everyone swayed lovingly as they softly sang along. At the urging of Tristan DeDe, the crowd was invited to contribute to “Girl” (a song that featured a brilliant Clarinet part that can not be beat), the crowd responded in kind echoing the sexy sighs required of them and it was one of the most tender moments of the evening, an almost reverent feeling swept across the bar and once more the dreamy haze ensued. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anyone attempt to make “Norwegian Wood” trippier than it already was, but Future Loves Past made a stab at it and succeeded in spades, this includes reverb trickery and making a guitar sound like a sitar and keyboard wizardry that made the entire tune that made you forget there wasn’t a twelve piece band in front of you, but rather nearly half of that.
Up next was the only song not on Rubber Soul, it was a staple of their regular live set, their amazing rendition of “Two Of Us” from Let It Be. This is one of my favorite Beatles songs to begin with and it is rarely covered by anyone, I have to admit that the first time I saw Future Loves Past cover it I nearly lost my mind and I had only hoped they would slip it into the set somewhere and they did and it was phenomenal. What happened next, though, might get the award for the inventive/re-inventive cover of the night, everyone had to know it was going to be something great when they invited Kalen Lander of TKLB? on stage, and it was. While I’ve heard the Wu-Tang mashup before, it is nothing compared to Future Loves Past and TKLB? presenting “You Won’t See Me.” The lyrics have been posted since this event and they add even more dimension to the entire thing, but this may well have been the greatest moment early on in the evening and certainly the first to seriously detour from a traditional reading, which was refreshing, brilliant and difficult to shake out of my mind days, weeks and now nearly a month later. Simply amazing. The set finished with “Wait,” another amazing album pick presented true to form and perhaps, the perfect finale for the set. One thing was clear, at that point, Future Loves Past had just raised the bar for the evening and amazingly enough it just spiraled ever higher from there. You don’t have to take my word for it though, click on the link below and here all the tracks they played from Rubber Soul.
There was a point where I thought that it might not get any better than that, I wasn’t sure if what I had just seen could be topped. While I’m not sure if the previous set was topped, it sure as hell was matched. There had been talk that 88MPH was going to play all of Revolver and it almost seemed unfathomable. My favorite Beatle album vacillates between Revolver and Abbey Road and I was in supreme luck that evening, but I didn’t know what to expect from 88MPH, I had seen them before, but really, were they going to tackle Revolver? They did have one secret weapon up their sleeve that evening, and that weapon was an additional guitarist and his name is Paul Balazs–a relative newcomer to the Phoenix scene and I have to say a welcome, powerful addition. They opened with “Taxman” and I was sold from the start, first of all it’s a Harrison song and George is my favorite Beatle, secondly they fucking nailed it out of the ballpark. I’ve heard this song covered by some of the best including the Modfather himself, Paul Weller and these guys NAILED it. Their take on “Eleanor Rigby,” and by that I mean they actually turned it “into a rock song rather than a wistfully neurotic paean, was originally delightful and kept their momentum flowing whereas others may have chosen to explore a more dirge-like realm with it. “I’m Only Sleeping” was amazingly and appropriately faithful to the original, it was at this point that I got the feeling with the sound and look of the band, with the psychedelic lights blazing, that if the Beatles has played a show at a small smokey club in 1966 to test out Revolver, this is exactly what it would have looked and sounded like and they sold me even more. “Love You Too” deepened that experience as they took the psychedelic exploration of that song and made it come to life, always one of my favorite songs, I will now, never forget it live as played by 88MPH–it may have also been at this point I started really noticing Paul Balazs and what the hell he was doing with that guitar. I’m not going to lie, “Here, There and Everywhere” is my least favorite song on the album, but when 88MPH played it, it was a little easier to handle, something about the arrangement didn’t strike me as a completely lame song, not sure what it was–they nailed it, but in my mind they made it better. The sing along madness of “Yellow Submarine” ensued and there is nothing like a Ringo song to happily kill the doldrums of a McCartney ballad, the crowd was explosive at this point and belted out the chorus proudly, loudly and we all sailed beneath the seas for a few minutes quite happily. “This ones about Peter Fonda,” was the introduction to “She Said, She Said” and I thought my mind was being blown out in a car when they stepped into it, these are songs that I’ve very rarely heard played live by anyone and to hear these guys not only perform them, but perform them beyond perfection, well, it made me feel that for a moment I knew what it was like to be dead.
At this point I was on my 19th epiphany and it occurred to me they had only played half the album. I had little time to reckon with this thought before the dazzling pop wonderment of McCartney’s “Good Day Sunshine” exploded from the stage and I went into a dream. This was also the point that I watched in stunned amazement as Paul Balazs made horns and piano come out of his goddamned guitar. It was utterly perfect to a ridiculous degree and I couldn’t have been happier. “And Your Bird Can Sing” followed and by now, nearly everyone in the standing room only audience was simply shaking their head in amazement at what was being done on stage in front of them, each moment was perfection, each performance was topping the other, each moment was blowing our collective minds. The same was true when “For No One” hit and once more, if I’m not mistaken horns came out of a guitar, the vocals were spot on and if you don’t believe me, there is video available on this one, but it doesn’t come close to how it sounded and felt live that night. “Dr. Robert” was a faithful rendition and once more it seemed that if the Fab Four had slipped to a secret club to try out songs this is how it would have been, I found myself closing my eyes, dancing and imagining that, then opening them to catch the psychedelic light show that was so far out. The album was coming to a close and 88MPH wasn’t losing one bit of momentum, “I Want To Tell You” was delivered in fine fashion, another number nailed with no irony, but humble homage and a touch of worship. It was “Got To Get You Into My Life,” one of my favorite tracks from Revolver that really hit home with me and you can view the video below to see why. In some ways the way 88MPH played the album was even better than the recording, because it was loose enough live yet true to the original–they’d be wise to release the recordings on Bandcamp or some other free format for their fans and for fun, the quality of the audio recordings from that night beat the video to smithereens. Rumor has it someone has been synching up the video with the audio tracks with impressive results. At last it was time for the finale and watching 88MPH perform “Tomorrow Never Knows” with which they took quite a few brilliant liberties was a peak experience–the lights the music, the dancing, the madness, it all came together in that last song and they were done. The air was electric, 88MPH proved themselves to me to be a powerful musical force to be reckoned with and a new guitar hero was born. I couldn’t imagine how the evening could go on after that, but it did and it was not an iota disappointing in the least.
I can’t actually count the number of times I’ve seen Japhy’s Descent or honestly, how many venues I’ve seen them at, so I was ultra-curious how they were going to tackle Magical Mystery Tour of all things! It gave me something to ponder during the set change recovering from a blown mind. I’m not sure there was any way I could prepare for what Japhy’s Descent were about to do. In short order they took five songs from Magical Mystery Tour and turned them into a blues drenched, psychedelic, hard rock odyssey and over all, it has to be said that it was the most re-interpretive act of the night. It was a pretty stunning set which opened with the title track rocked out to maximum volume while approaching Zeppelin-esque jams. They were accompanied by Eric, Sarah and Tristan of Future Loves Past with sublime results. This was followed by “Baby You’re A Rich Man” with which the same rocking liberties were taken, a furiously paced number that roused the crowd and by the end we were all clapping along, demanding the jamming and enjoying every moment of it.
“Fool On The Hill” was delivered with an almost sociopathic flavor and it was a new take on a great song that I couldn’t like more. It reminded me of what latter day Boingo would have done with the song, this was almost fascinatingly nightmarish, in the best way possible. They maintained the hard rock darkness for the usually bright and chipper “Strawberry Fields Forever” and for the folks who left when the crowd only thinned out slightly, they missed and amazing rendition of the song. It seemed natural that they would have to end with “I Am The Walrus,” it seemed right up their alley and open for wide interpretation and it was and they did. In short it was the finale and it was a truly “Wow” event. No holds barred, mind-blowingly amazing. Check out the link below, today is the last day you can download “Magical Mystery Tour,” “Strawberry Fields” and “I Am The Walrus” for free!
The time had come for the last act of the evening, after a more than spectacular offering already, Sun Ghost took the stage to perform my other favorite Beatle album Abbey Road, nearly in it’s entirety. I had watched last years videos and knew how great they had been on takes from Let It Be, but it was clear that there was a lot more love and practice put into their rendition of Abbey Road. It was clear right from the start that this was a labor of love and they were there to make the most of it, but when the first notes of “Come Together” rang through the air the crowd was stilled for a moment, if for no other reason than shock–this sounded spot on and when Trevor Denton came in on the vocals it was even more amazing (check out the video below but, pardon the sound). It was clear that Sun Ghost was going to perform this faithfully, because, let’s face it, Abbey Road is the Beatles final and possibly greatest masterpiece. It’s one thing to hit a hard rocker like the album opener running, but when it came down to the sweet sentimentality of “Something,” Sun Ghost lovingly embraced it, their brilliant interpretation of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” followed and became something of a sing-a-long treat for the audience. Jarret Williams joined them on stage for an amazingly faithful version of “Oh, Darling” and by this point I was already closing my eyes, because for my money and mind and time, it was The Beatles up there playing Abbey Road as they never did…Sun Ghost ceased to exist as they channeled this music straight through to the eager audience soaking up all the aural satisfaction they could. “Octopus’ Garden” followed and it seemed to be another joyful sing-a-long song (something that happens with a lot of Ringo’s stuff I’ve noticed) and they ended side one spectacularly with what was perhaps the best song for being true to form the entire night, “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).”
Oddly, they skipped right over “Here Comes The Sun,” though Future Loves Past had played a bar or two of it earlier and went straight to the glorious non-stop grandeur that is the great run on medley of side two. What can be said? Well, I’d kill for the audio of “Because/You Never Give Me Your Money/Sun King/Mean Mr. Mustard/Polythene Pam/She Came In Through The Bathroom Window/Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End.” It’s delivery was spot on, it’s pacing was perfect and it matched the album note for note, moment for moment, for that I put my notebook aside and just let ride inside my mind. There is simply a note scrawled across the page that says, “Un-Fucking-Believable.” I think that sums it up well. It was yet another peak in the evening and I was more impressed with Sun Ghost than ever before (and those guys constantly impress me), but this was unreal. And, in the end, we stood their wide-eyed, mouths agape, wild smiles growing with the bewilderment of all that we had had the good fortune to witness in the evening. That finale was the greatest frosting one could imagine on an already delicious cake. My head was full, my ears were satisfied and I could not have been more proud of five local bands that blew the roof off the Rogue playing the songs of the Beatles all night long.
The evening was a magical, amazing event and after the dust settled and the rain came, I could only think about what next year would be like. I even challenged Future Loves Past to start working on getting the entirety of Sgt. Pepper down, because I think they’d do it justice, I’d like to see 88MPH do all of Rubber Soul because they mentioned that was actually their favorite album, I’d like Sun Ghost to do all of Let It Be only because I didn’t see last years, maybe Japhy’s Descent could do the rest of the songs from Magical Mystery Tour and The Vanjacks could visit with Help! (which in my mind is the first Beatles album that matters). Hell, it would be pretty great for some band to hit up the Past Masters, how awesome would it be to hear someone cover “You Know My Name (Look Up My Number)”? Well, there’s 11 months until the next one, plenty of time to plan and practic, plenty of time to make year three even greater, if that’s even possible.