I’ve seen more than my share of Beatles tributes over the years, but none with the star power that graced an electric Broward Center on Wednesday night, when a supergroup of classic-rock royalty gathered to perform the majority of the Fab Four’s epochal White Album.
Titled “It Was 50 Years Ago Today,” the special tour featured Todd Rundgren, Chrostopher Cross, the Monkees’ Micky Dolenz, Badfiner’s Joey Molland and Chicago’s Jason Scheff fronting a top-notch five-piece band. Though the singer-musicians hailed from, in some cases, different musicals movements and eras than the ‘60s British Invasion, they exhibited a transparent reverence for the material and, perhaps more importantly, a collegiality with each other that made the evening a skillfully paced, hitch-free breeze.
The group opened, as it must, with a rousing “Back in the U.S.S.R.” But any expectation that the players would stick to the album sequence was quickly scuttled; “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey” was played third, followed shortly after by the Side D cut “Savoy Truffle.” Rather than heresy, this decision led to a pleasantly unpredictable evening. Furthermore, shuffling the set list only re-enforced the durability and flexibility of the White Album compositions, which made just as much “sense” in the tour’s remixed order.
Each of the vocalists had at least one shining moment. For Scheff, it was the narcotic languor of “Dear Prudence,” his guitar notes as delicate as fine china. Dolenz, whose vocal command was not as pronounced as his colleagues’ during the first act, delivered an effective bombast to “I’m So Tired,” followed soon after by a thrilling, urgent rendition of “Happiness is a Warm Gun.”
Christopher Cross largely handled the Beatles’ balladry, with a blissful, effortlessly delightful four-track run from “Blackbird” to “Mother Nature’s Son.” He shared vocal duties on the latter with Scheff, and I was struck by its unadorned beauty. Like so many of these tracks, it almost never appears on Beatles tribute repertoires, so hearing it in this context was a rare gem indeed.
If there was an outlier among these down-to-business Fab Four devotees, it was Rundgren, who, for better or worse, was the resident jokester and scenery-chewer. Unlike his fellow-players, he embraced theatricality, playing to the crowd like a Vegas crooner and changing costumes at least four times—including a tie-dyed getup, a John Lennon-style all-white outfit, and army fatigues. He even brought out the occasional prop, spraying the front rows with a water gun during “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill.”
All of that said, Rundgren brought the house down with “Helter Skelter,” which sounded, despite its inconsequential lyrics, every bit like the ultimate proto-heavy-metal rocker, in which the singer wailed the vocal cord-burning high notes like he was auditioning for AC/DC.
And Rundgren’s fans, it must be said, were in full force, tossing him bouquets from the front rows, which he accepted in real time. Each singer was permitted a couple of their own songs during a Beatles break in Act One, and Rundgren’s “I Saw the Light” and “Hello It’s Me” received the most enthusiastic ovations, with Scheff’s high-octane performance of Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4” nipping at their heels.
The problem with this extended showcase of non-Beatle material is that it, by and large, isn’t as strong as one of the greatest albums in popular-music history, and the show’s momentum wobbled. I loved Cross’ voice and Beatles covers the most, but his ‘80s soft-pop muzak, to my artsy ears, sounded pretty dull—ditto to Scheff’s lachrymose Chicago ballad “Hard to Say I’m Sorry.” “Pleasant Valley Sunday” is a great song, but Dolenz’ run-through seemed rather limp.
Clearly, though, certain attendees showed up just to hear this solo material, and I was surprised to see patrons leave after, say, the Joey Molland, Rundgren and Cross sets. Hooey on them, because they missed an absolutely vivid and stellar second act that realized, and surpassed, all of the potential of a “White Album” trubute—even if we never got to “Revolution 9.”
Back in the U.S.S.R.
Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey
Martha My Dear
I’m a Believer
Pleasant Valley Sunday
No Matter What
Hard to Say I’m Sorry
25 or 6 to 4
I Saw the Light
Hello It’s Me
Ride Like the Wind
Why Don’t We Do it In the Road?
While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Mother Nature’s Son
I’m So Tired
Happiness is a Warm Gun
The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill
Ob-La-Di, Ob-La Da