January 4, 2003 at the Woodruff Arts Center - Atlanta, Georgia
Classical Mystery Tour is:
Yes, it is me again - your resident Beatles fanatic, with another Beatles tribute band review. This month's focus is on the tribute band, CLASSICAL MYSTERY TOUR, which has a slightly different approach than your regular Beatles tribute band. Sure, they have the obligatory costume changes and play some of the standard "hits". But, the twist that CMT puts on their performance is to have the backing of a full symphony orchestra! This brings up some very interesting possibilities - some of which CMT takes full advantage.
Although radio commercials for the event gave the impression that it was a Beatles show only, I was a little disappointed to find that the Beatles would only be featured in the second half of the show. The first half concentrated on a theme of '60s music, including songs from "Hair" & "Camelot", a Mamas & Papas medley, The Lion Sleeps Tonight and finally a Simon & Garfunkel medley. Nice...but boring. And not a true overview of '60s music at all!
After a short intermission, the conductor gave a little introduction, saying that they would be faithfully playing the Beatles songs. "The Beatles" took the stage, wearing those classic black Ed Sullivan-era Beatles suits. By coincidence, the video monitors on each side of the stage were black in white, which added to the effect - it was like a re-creation of the Beatles on TV in the '60s. "Got To Get You Into My Life" was the first song, followed by "A Hard Day's Night". My first impression of the band was that they had their act down very good, and I noticed their "mannerisms" right away - Paul & John's 'stance', George's 'dancing' and the bow after the songs. However, it was unusual that Ringo was the only one that they didn't try the visual effect on. This 'Ringo' had long hair and a goatee. But, 3 out of 4 aint bad. Plus, he played very convincingly.
Paul then picked up the acoustic while the other Beatles exited...you knew it was time for "Yesterday"! The seriousness was broken was Paul suddenly started singing "Feelings" (The Barry Manilow song) to the chords of "Yesterday". Funny indeed, a great surprise! There was a costume change into the "Pepper" uniforms before the band played "All You Need Is Love". This was the first song that I noticed the full effect of the live symphony. "Penny Lane" followed, with the "rarities" version being played - with the piccolo trumpet notes at the end that were missing from the released version. Next was "Here Comes The Sun", again another song that sounded really cool with the full orchestra. Two more songs were played with the band wearing the Sgt. Pepper uniforms, "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" and "With A Little Help From My Friends", with the orchestra supplying the clapping and the laughing heard on the record!
After a costume change into "later" period Beatle attire (Paul in white shirt and black coat, Ringo in blue shirt & vest, John in yellow shirt & black vest and George in jeans and blue shirt) the band launched into "Long & Winding Road". It was ironic that the orchestrated Phil Spector version was used, since Paul McCartney always preferred the song un-orchestrated! "Live and Let Die" followed and it was cool seeing "The Beatles" back up Paul McCartney on a solo hit. Made you wonder, "what if"? While 'Paul' was in fine voice, 'Ringo' did very impressive reggae drums on the middle break. John then introduced the next song asking, "Do you remember the white album? Well, were not gonna play anything off it..." Then he introduced the next song, "Goodnight". Although 'Ringo' doesn't look at all like the real Ringo, he did a fantastic job of vocals on this Ringo solo song from the White Album. This song for me was a highlight, because it is one that you seldom hear done by a Beatles tribute band, probably do to the fact that it is a orchestra only song. This brought me to another point: I would rather have had the orchestra do versions of George Martin's instrumental Beatles film music than that lightweight '60s material in the first half of the show. That way, you continue the Beatles theme all night and you get to hear songs like "Pepperland" from the Yellow Submarine film!
John entered the stage wearing his classic white outfit with long hair and granny glasses to play "Come Together". Another solo song followed, this time the Lennon classic "Imagine". Again, it was both bizarre and great seeing "The Beatles" playing backup on a solo Beatles song. Paul then introduced the band and announced that there would be one more song. It was actually a medley from Abbey Road, with "Golden Slumbers", "Carry That Weight" and "The End". Since Paul was on bass, it was interesting to see just John and George trade guitar leads on the 3-part lead guitar ending of "The End". The band exited the stage and then John returned asking, "would ya like to hear another song?" to much applause. A rousing version of "Hey Jude" followed and it was great having the full orchestra there (much like their "live" 1968 television performance of the song which used a live symphony orchestra). One thing I did notice - Ringo was twirling his drum sticks like Keith Moon?! At one point Paul got up from the piano to lead the various parts of the audience in a sing-along ("everyone on the floor now...everyone in the balcony...")
The band exited the stage again and then re-emerged to play "Twist And Shout". This song had basically everyone in the audience on their feet! It was kind of bizarre seeing this normally conservative symphony audience on their feet - young and old - clapping and singing. All in all I would highly recommend seeing CLASSICAL MYSTERY TOUR. Not only are they first class musicians, but also the orchestration really adds to the total effect., you get to hear songs that most Beatles tribute bands never attempt.