The Bootleg Beatles
Opera House, Wellington
Thursday, November 14
I’ve seen The Bootleg Beatles before – so they’re not the only repeat-offenders. They were very good. And I’m not (often) a fan of tribute acts. But a) it’s The Beatles. And b) this is a very good-natured, well-meaning, deftly executed tribute show. It’s about celebrating some of the fantastic music The Fab Four put into place and taking audience members – young and old – for a trip down memory lane.
We start with a video package, early 1960s, setting the scene – and then when the lights come up our living wax-figurines are busting out It Won’t Be Long, all mop-tops shaking and full rock’n’roll energy. All My Loving, She Loves You, Roll Over Beethoven (with the ‘George’ of the group getting his first vocal shot) and then when ‘Paul’ stays on stage solo for Yesterday (big audience singalong in Wellington!) it allows the other members the chance for a quick costume change.
From the black-sweater Meet The Beatles phase to the collarless Shea Stadium (Help! era) look for Can’t Buy Me Love and You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away and even ‘Ringo’ gets to sing (Act Naturally) and busts a Ringo-esque charm-offensive joke: “I don’t get to sing very much…” [pause for audience sigh]… “and after you hear this you’ll know why”.
I was there this time with my just-turned-8 son Oscar. He’s a massive Beatles fan. On his second wind actually (when he was three or four he was into the albums big-time, then they were cast aside for cartoons and novelty kids music and following an ELO/Fleetwood Mac-burst of appreciation thanks to Marvel movie soundtracks he’s back at The Beatles). So he was in heaven singing along and we were far back enough that if you closed your eyes it really did sound like…a tribute act.
Look, these fellas are good – but it’s an ugly institution isn’t it? The Bootleg Beatles formed in 1980 and has been paying tribute to the roughly seven years that The Beatles changed the world of music for nearly 40 years now. Well, why not. There are worse things that could be happening. And though they call each other by The Beatles’ real given names they do know they’re playing a role. So ‘John’ is a bit prickly and ‘Paul’ is far too sweet and ‘George’ gets some sarcasm in later in the show when he says that Eric Clapton couldn’t be there to do the guitar solo on While My Guitar Gently Weeps because he’s “at home in bed with the wife…my wife!”
So I don’t know. Is this good? I thought it was really fucking good. But I would understand why you wouldn’t…
Set one is all the hits and highlights from 1962-1966 and then for the second half they came out in full Abbey Road attire.
I was slightly disappointed we didn’t get the full Abbey Road tribute – that’s been happening at some of the shows on this tour. Especially since they nailed their set-opening Come Together. Here we go I thought…
But no. It was off to Let It Be (Don’t Let Me Down – the kinda had, in a way) and Magical Mystery Tour (Hello Goodbye) and it was all building towards Hey Jude, even if they did go back down Abbey Road for Here Comes The Sun.
There was a nice energy to the lads – their banter, the role-playing, and their actual musical playing. When a young kid begged to get up and play on the drums they humoured him, but were professional enough to wind it up before it got awkward. That kid will have a story and no one was laughing at him or cringing at any well-meaning delusion.
That’s true of how the show deserved to be received actually. Jolly good fun if that’s what you wanted.
I’d go again – but only for a third time if I knew they were going to play a full album in its entirety. I remember from my first time seeing this group the real thrill was in the second half, seeing a version of The Beatles playing the songs live that the real group never got to do.
Okay, this review doesn’t know how to end now. And that’s because I’m a giant fucking Beatle-nerd. Sorry. Not sorry.
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