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The Bootleg Beatles

November 14, 2012

Event: The Bootleg Beatles
Venue: Grand Theater at Marina Bay Sands
Run: 8th – 11th Nov 2012

Ticket To Ride With The Fab Four

I’m actually not that old, but I’m as huge a fan of the Beatles as you can probably find, at least amongst my peers.

The group had long disbanded by the time I had come into existence, and I was barely one when John Lennon was tragically shot by Mark Chapman in New York City, so you can probably guess how old I am.

It was my dad who weaned me on the wonderful sounds of the Fab Four by playing Beatles records non-stop in the car, and it thus sparked my lifelong love affair with the most talented band the world has ever known.

I guess the thing about tribute band concerts it that it’s extremely hard for things to go wrong really, unless the band is woefully inept.

But considering this is the Grand Theater at the Marina Bay Sands, and considering the Bootleg Beatles have performed more than 4,000 shows since 1980, there was absolutely no way this show was going to be anything less than engaging.

The band performed the 2.5hr concert in chronological fashion, and the songs were grouped into three distinct segments representing the distinct phases in their career – the early mop-top teeny-bopper phase, the mid-career “Sergeant Pepper’s” phase, and the late-career “Abbey Road” hippie phase.

They kicked things off with the ever-popular “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”, and what immediately struck me was how similar the Bootleg Beatles were to the actual group, right down to the tiniest detail.

They had the mannerisms all down pat – John’s trademark wide stance, Ringo’s metronomic head bop while on the drums, Paul’s wide-eyed exuberance on the bass, and George the quiet one in the middle of it all.

Even the instruments were familiar – the Rickenbackers often favoured by George and John, and Paul’s iconic Hofner bass.

And you know what was the most amazing thing?

Paul even played his bass left-handed!

I’m not sure if this Paul is a natural left-hander, but it would have been simply amazing if he were not.

Such was their dedication to mimicking the real Beatles completely, that it was such a lovely yet surreal sight seeing these four musicians performing on stage, as if we were somehow being magically transported back to the Ed Sullivan Theater in 1964.

In terms of resemblances, I thought John was an absolute dead ringer, both in terms of looks and voice, while Paul’s facial features did somewhat look the part, although the timbre of his voice was quite different from the actual Paul McCartney.

(But then again, how many people can truly claim to sound like the real Paul McCartney?)

That being said, I thought this Paul was vocally very strong, and had wonderful range which enabled him to sing the higher harmonies the way the real Paul always did.

George and Ringo looked slightly less like the real thing than John and Paul, but these are but minor quibbles.

The band went on to dispense with the early favourites such as “Please Please Me”, “All My Loving”, “She Loves You” (a personal favourite of mine), and “Love Me Do”, which allowed John to showcase his impressive skills on the harmonica as well.

Musicianship-wise, the band was adequate but not extremely tight, although I thought they did very well with all the vocal harmonies, which was one of the things the Beatles were well known for.

The banter was highly entertaining, with each musician keeping in character throughout the entire show.

John displayed his familiar cheeky, sardonic sense of humour, while Paul remained the ever-cheerful, ever-earnest optimist.

One of the highlights was Paul doing his solo number “Yesterday” on acoustic guitar, backed by a string quartet, and this pretty much represented the emotional high point of the first segment.

The second act started with “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, after which Ringo ably sang his only song for the show in “With a Little Help from My Friends”.

This was followed by two more of Lennon’s compositions “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “Strawberry Fields Forever”, which demonstrated the psychedelic direction in which he was embarking on at that point in his songwriting career.

The high point for me came right after these two songs, when Paul did his “Penny Lane”, which was the perfect juxtaposition against John’s earlier two songs.

“Penny Lane” showcased the ever-maturing songwriting prowess of Paul, and it was such a sweet and beautiful number especially when contrasted with the edgier earlier two pieces.

The band was also mindful to include two Harrison numbers in the show, namely “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “Here Comes the Sun”, which reminded us how much of a talent George was as well in the songwriting department.

The last segment featured songs such as “Come Together”, “Get Back” and the show-stopper “Hey Jude”.

Of course, the Beatles oeuvre is so vast that it is impossible to cover every single hit song, but notable omissions in the show for me included “In My Life”, “Yellow Submarine”, “Let It Be”, “Across the Universe” and “The Long and Winding Road”.

But I’m just being difficult here.

Other than those few, I thought the band’s setlist was pretty much faultless.

Apart from the fact that it allowed us to once again relive the Beatles, I guess this Bootleg Beatles tribute concert was an excellent reminder of just how prolific and creative the Beatles were, and how they managed to evolve in their songwriting from one phase to another and yet keep churning out classic after classic.

There simply isn’t another band out there that has delivered as many classics as the Beatles have, and even though their musicianship may not have been the greatest, they were fortunate enough to have two of the greatest pop songwriters in history both in the same band, and with a third songwriter in George who was certainly no slouch either.

And as such, it’s hard to see how anyone would have walked out of the Grand Theater a disappointed person, after being treated to a full-length concert of some of the finest pop music ever written.

One can only wonder if we will ever see another phenomenon like the Beatles again.

But then again, who would have thought back in the 60’s that a group of four lads from Liverpool would go on to conquer the world?

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