Monday, July 25, 2011
The Fab Four, Jumping Jack Flash bring Beatles, Stones classics to the Orange County Fair
From left: Ardy Sarraf (as Paul McCartney), Gavin Pring (George Harrison), Erik Fidel (Ringo Starr) and Ron McNeil (John Lennon) rock out as the Fab Four, a Beatles tribute band, at the Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa on Saturday, July 23, 2011.
Photo credit: JOSHUA SUDOCK, THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
My review was originally posted on The Orange County Register Web site on Sunday, July 24, 2011.
Pacific 2011: Big fun with Beatles, Stones tributes
It has been both interesting and instructive to watch how popular so-called tribute acts have become in recent years. While there have long been salutes to the Beatles, ever since the success of Beatlemania in the late ’70s, there are now tributes to everybody from Journey to the Doors, Queen to David Bowie, Heart to the Smiths, all playing to enthusiastic crowds (and often at the OC Fair this summer).
But “The Greatest Show That Never Was” provided a fascinating boost to the growing parade of musicians emulating famous groups, with Saturday fare at Pacific Amphitheatre featuring a hypothetical bill featuring the Beatles (played by the Fab Four) and the Rolling Stones (courtesy of Jumping Jack Flash).
Whether because ticket prices to see the real Stones or Paul McCartney are routinely in the triple digits (even for cheaper seats at their shows) or because tributes offer strictly nostalgia and classic hits, casual concert-goers seem to be increasingly comfortable cheering on the singer-actors portraying the real-life icons. Indeed, there were only a few small blocks of empty seats at the back of the venue this night.
“The Greatest Show That Never Was” also had a foolproof approach, the Fab Four and Jumping Jack Flash alternating sets over the course of two hours. While one group was playing, the other had time to change into attire reflecting another era. That meant no downtime or intermission was required.
Things kicked off with actor Jerry Hoban portraying Ed Sullivan introducing the Fab Four, who came out as the Beatles as they appeared in early ’64. McCartney (played and sung by the excellent Ardy Sarraf) would ultimately do most of the heavy lifting in terms of really locking in the Beatles vibe, his voice a close match to Sir Paul’s and his commitment to the part including the ability to play the bass and acoustic guitar left-handed. But Ron McNeil (as John Lennon), Gavin Pring (as George Harrison) and Erik Fidel (as Ringo Starr) all handled their parts well.
While it was fun to watch the group perform the infectious “All My Loving” and “Eight Days a Week” in its first set, I’ve always been more keen to watch the Fab Four re-create the late-’60s material the real Beatles never played live (except in subsequent solo careers). Modern-day technology is a good thing in the hands of savvy players like these, who conjured the orchestral parts on an epic “A Day in the Life” and the horn section for “Got to Get You into My Life” using keyboards in their second set.
But seeing as their task is to (exactingly) cover material from the crown jewel of rock’s catalog, the quartet merely had to faithfully perform one gem after another to please. Getting everyone to sing along during “Twist and Shout” early on or “Hey Jude” later in the night was a snap. In the end, even naysayers can be grateful that the Fab Four is likely introducing young fans (many of whom I saw seated around me at Pacific) to the timeless songcraft and magic of the Beatles.
O.C.-based Jumping Jack Flash had the more challenging task Saturday night. While the quintet was up to the task, they had more years to cover and required guitarist Pat Hennessy (initially portraying Brian Jones) to also play material from the early-’70s Mick Taylor era as well as the later Ron Wood period.
Yet the group, led by singer Todd Loweth (who certainly had Mick Jagger‘s mannerisms down) and guitarist Young Hutchison (ditto on him mirroring the look and guitar style of Keith Richards), managed to highlight the band’s various eras effectively.
Fans of the early Stones got “Time Is on My Side” and “19th Nervous Breakdown,” while those of us who prefer the band’s late ’60s stuff got “Honky Tonk Women” and the tribute band’s namesake single. Later, they tackled the ’80s hit “Start Me Up,” but the group also incorporated side players during its sets, with singer Jill Hennessy really belting out some wonderful vocals during “Gimme Shelter.”
What if the real Beatles and Stones had ever shared the bill? Would they have joined forces to perform together? That is exactly how Saturday night ended, with the members of both tributes playing together. In a bit of good fun, one group would start a song from its source, and then the other would segue that into another tune.
That soon led to a fun-filled tug-of-war between “Satisfaction” and “Day Tripper,” with a creative arrangement that blended both songs into one. It all came to a dramatic finish with the Beatles’ “The End,” with all the musicians playing together and every guitarist taking a turn at one of the jam’s fiery solos.