Sunday, September 20, 2009

What If: A Beatles Reunion

Last night I went to a housewarming party at my brother's new place - he's recently moved in with his girlfriend who is lovely in every way. Kudos to him.

A big highlight to the gathering was everyone playing and enjoying his recently purchased Beatles Rockband game.

It's fun, it's silly, it's addictive. For those who don't know, Guitar Hero and Rockband are musical video games, that involve mimicking rock n' rollers with plastic pint-sized instruments. Rockband is especially goofy because it involves guitars, drums and a microphone.

Once dignity has been dispensed with, it's a heck of a lot of fun, not only for people actually playing, but for observers as well.

But what makes the recently released Beatles version of the game especially great is, well, The Beatles.

I was struck last night at how everyone in the party, playing or not, took time to enjoy the music. One great thing about the game, is that the music you hear is the actual Beatles - not a cover or close proximity. It's really the boys, thanks to the miracles of modern sound engineering, separated onto different tracks. So if you're on drums and flub a beat or two, you hear Ringo's drumming drop out while the guitars and bass keep going. It's very slick.

The graphics are kind of creepy at first - robotic looking Beatles strum and strut through the numbers. For the earlier music you're in the Cavern Club, the Ed Sullivan Show and various stadiums and arenas. Later tunes feature the fab four in studio, but as the songs get underway they transform into psychedelic dreamscapes.

Once I got past the fact that John, Paul, George and Ringo looked like mannequin androids, I was impressed at the attention to detail, both in the bands mannerisms and technical playing as well as the digitally crafted environments. The music and the imagery combined with an enthusiastic group of friends who happen to love the Beatles, creates a unique and surprisingly powerful interactive experience.

Beatles Rockband, as surreal and as ridiculous as it is - is actually very special. It brings the best band in the world to a whole new audience, in a completely original way. It was put together with a lot of thought and care, and carries the seal of approval from the band's surviving members and the widows of George and John.

The Beatles are quite simply, the most influential and most beloved rock and roll act of all time. And happily, I am part of the vast majority of earthlings who have been enthralled and forever affected by the fab four.

Their music has meant very much to me personally over the years - it was a big part of my childhood, and today I still get emotional over the memories that are induced when certain tunes are played. I'm also especially struck, now as an adult, at just how cohesive and perfect the overall arc of the Beatles music is.

13 outstanding albums. Zero reunion tours.

Yoko Ono said it best, shortly after the bands breakup. I'm paraphrasing - "The Beatles were like a perfect temple, that was destroyed right after being built. Now they will always be perfect."

And it's true, unlike certain other "legendary" British bands, they will never be a tired old joke. They will never "retire" only to resurface with a mediocre record and world tour two years later, strutting around the stage in their 60's after endless plastic surgery and pilates. They will always be perfect.

Whatever twinge of sadness we might feel over never having the chance to see The Beatles play live, ever again, we can take more than enough solace in the fact that they will forever and for always be great. And their ultimate message, their gift to the world - is love. This will likely not tarnish or be diminished for at least a millennia or more.

But I confess, one of the great recurring daydreams of my life, is what would have happened if John hadn't been taken from us so abruptly. Recently before George was diagnosed with cancer, the three remaining lads became not only amicable but friendly to the point where they collaborated intensely on The Beatles Anthology and even crafted 2 brand new songs using John's old vocals. It captured my imagination. What if John had been in that mix? Would they have gone on tour?

Entertainment Weekly recently ranked the 50 best Beatles songs. A preposterous and pointless exercise. So much greatness, how can they only pick 50? I think it's patently ridiculous to even try. But to imagine what a set list might have been at a Beatles concert were it held today, where there would be at least some logic to picking and choosing, now that's a great idea!

My dream Beatles concert would go something like this...


The stage and lighting would be bare bones. Dark except for the instruments illuminated by harsh overhead spotlights. The iconic drum kit on a small riser, the classic Hofner bass, Gretch Duo Jet and Rickenbacker guitars on stands and waiting for their masters. The arena is plunged into darkness. Over an ocean of screams the cyclorama is illuminated, and four men arrive in silhouette. Three picking up and strapping on their guitars, one sitting down at the drum kit, the blackened shapes meander a bit - and then the first chord is struck...

A Hard Day's Night
Get Back
In My Life
Paperback Writer
I Feel Fine
I Wanna Hold Your Hand
Ticket to Ride
I've Just Seen a Face
She Said, She Said
Back in the USSR
Ballad of John and Yoko
All Together Now
I Saw Her Standing There

The first act is entirely The Beatles only, no additional musicians or instrumentation. The production design is also very flat and basic. The focus is the music. There are no costume changes, and a minimum of instrument changes. When the curtain rises on Act II, however, there is a full Orchestra, as well as additional percussionists and of course, Billy Preston on Keyboards. The staging, especially lighting, is a lot more elaborate and colorful.

Act II

Here Comes the Sun
Sgt. Peppers Lonely Heart's Club Band
A Little Help From My Friends
Lucy In the Sky with Diamonds
Within Without You
Hello Goodbye
Penny Lane
Strawberry Fields Forever
A Day In the Life
Yellow Submarine
Let It Be
Norwegian Wood
I Am the Walrus
Hey Jude
Golden Slumbers
Carry That Weight
The End
All You Need Is Love

Just a single encore, but what an encore. Once again, it's just the boys, stripped down and simplified.


She Loves You
Please Please Me
From Me to You
Can't Buy Me Love
Love Me Do
Twist and Shout

I know, I know, not enough George and Ringo songs. Too many hits, not enough obscurities. Well tough. Make you're own! This one is mine! I really tried to make it feasible number of songs, in a non-chronological order (for the most part) that would have a very good rhythm of both upbeat and slower numbers, with nice builds towards the climaxes of each act and the encore.

I love the idea of a stripped down first act, a psychedelic second act, and a third mini-act that mimics the original set lists from those early stadium shows. About a 3 and a half hour show; a perfect evening that hits all the right notes and memories.

And one things for sure, this concert in my head is most likely WAY better than any actual show would have been.

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