I can’t quite remember what started this obsession. Was it the time I foolishly introduced him to “Yellow Submarine,” after which, much to my chagrin, he insisted on hearing nothing but that silly ditty in the car for at least two weeks? Or was it the day he found my DVD of A Hard Day’s Night tucked in among his tattered Elmo compilations and episodes of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse?
Either way, that flick has been in heavy rotation ever since, as have a growing number of Beatles staples and basic factoids he fires off with pride. (“Hey, that’s on Beatles for Sale!” he exclaims every time “Eight Days a Week” comes on.) He routinely grabs my iPod, snaps in kid-safe headphones and scans through arguably the greatest songbook ever recorded, questioning me endlessly about tunes he doesn’t recognize and making instant dismissive judgments on cuts he can do without (he’s not into George’s sitar stuff, not surprisingly, but to my delight he’s also not much for “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”).
Must be in his genes. Like so many other Gen-X kids growing up in the ’70s, Sam’s old man was weaned on everything Beatles by a boomer mom who had seen the real thing at the Hollywood Bowl in ’64 and ’65. It was inevitable he’d get exposed to their complete catalog, and obviously children are sponges for knowledge of any kind – yet his capacity to soak up more and more music that’s nearly five decades old keeps startling me.
Maybe it’s just easier these days for impressionable minds to take in everything the legendary Liverpudlians put out. When I was twice his age, the only items I could get my hands on (or was allowed to wear out on my cheap record player) were retrospectives like those red and blue time capsules from ’73 or the nifty (if oddly packaged) double-LP Rock ’n’ Roll Music that arrived a month before the Bicentennial.
Sam, on the other hand, regularly asks me to pull down the remastered box set from 2009, so he can pore over every classic disc like young William Miller tracing his fingers over his sister’s copy of Tommy in Almost Famous. At least once a week the lad asks to play Beatles Rock Band, garbling verses and hollering choruses for hours. By the time I was a teenager in the ’80s it was still hard to come by decent-looking copies of any of their movies, but at Sam’s fingertips is most of the group’s filmography in high-quality versions; he’s already gone through fleeting phases of loving Help! and Yellow Submarine and random parts of the group's Anthology.
And then there are the tribute bands, a trend he (and seemingly scores more young'uns) experienced for the first time Saturday night at Pacific Amphitheatre, where locally loved outfit the Fab Four, as great a Beatles tribute as you can find these days, gleefully returned for their annual visit.
There’s almost always an extra gimmick involved when these first-rate copycats come back to Costa Mesa. Two years ago they rose to the challenge of re-creating Sgt. Pepper in full; last year they staged a live pairing that never existed by enlisting the help of Rolling Stones salute Jumpin’ Jack Flash. This time they had Beach Boys homage Surfin’ Safari at their side – literally, trading sets with that act throughout the two-hour, intermission-free show, separated by introductions from oldies radio icon Brian “Mr. Rock ’n’ Roll” Bierne.
Mirroring the evolution of those two musical forces was a logical approach that nonetheless would have required an extra hour (or two) to fully work. The structure and time constraints meant that significant chunks of each band’s history had to be glossed over.
The Beatles’ mold-shattering mid-period, for instance, from Help! to Revolver, yielded only three tunes, two of them obvious (“Yesterday” and “Yellow Submarine”) while a less-effective third (a fairly canned “Got to Get You into My Life,” with horns reproduced by synths) was used as a means for the group’s very sharp John Lennon impersonator (Ron McNeil) to change out of Pepper gear and into Imagine-era protest garb.
Likewise, Surfin’ Safari squeezed in plenty of pleasantly delivered early gems (“I Get Around,” “Fun, Fun, Fun,” “All Summer Long”) but curiously skipped a few later staples (most noticeably “Sloop John B”) in favor of relative obscurities like “I Can Hear Music” and a really shaky rendition of “Kokomo.”
Sam was no more into that mix initially than I was. “Daddy, where are the Beatles?” he asked after the Beach Boys preservationists opened with the Summer of ’62 single that lends the quintet its name.
It helped that Christopher May (who plays Mike Love more amiably than the man himself ever is) got the crowd to do an amphitheater-wide wave every time his group sang the title “Catch a Wave” amid that song. Moments like that, as well as a rousing round of “Barbara Ann” to start their second set, kept the audience (and Sam) engaged when harmonic flubs and sketchy transitions became too evident.
But my boy was all about the Fab Four from the second they came running out, and after an opening blast through “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “All My Loving,” he started hearing some major singalong faves: “A Hard Day’s Night,” “I Should Have Known Better,” “Eight Days a Week,” “She Loves You.”
He was mesmerized, as well he should be, because unlike the genial Surfin’ Safari, who dress in striped shirts and white pants but otherwise look nothing like the heroes they emulate, McNeil and his gang – Neil Candelora (a properly left-handed Paul McCartney), Gavin Pring (a believable George Harrison) and Erik Fidel (a spot-on Ringo Starr, in both look and execution) – all go to great lengths to re-create the Beatles as accurately as possible. Their characterizations are often uncanny and their attention to the minutest details doesn’t go unappreciated; Candelora even has the appropriate patches on the arms of his Pepper military coat.
For an almost-4-year-old, it was a whoa-inducing sight, even if the set list left something to be desired.
I understand costume changes are essential to the illusion, but there must have been a better way to let McNeil switch it up offstage than to indulge the reprise of “Sgt. Pepper” so soon after playing the full-length version, then follow it up not with “A Day in the Life” but rather an overlong intro for “Got to Get You into My Life.” Also, much as I found it inspiring to encounter several thousand people heartily singing “Imagine” with the same serious allegiance they’d give to “The Star-Spangled Banner,” I think under these tight circumstances it might have been wiser to stick to actual Beatles material.
Sam – who, like so many other little kids I spotted among the crowd, spent most of the evening alternating between open-mouthed awe and cheering smiles – would have been more delighted by another half-dozen favorites, or better yet an entire night of just the Fab Four. The idea of closing with both groups joining forces for "God Only Knows" and "Surfin' U.S.A." (with a knowing reference to Chuck Berry's "Sweet Little Sixteen" from McNeil) was also as lost on me as it was him.
On the drive to the venue, Sam announced he’d decided upon four must-hear selections: “Here Comes the Sun,” “All Together Now,” “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Ticket to Ride.” I knew he’d never hear the second number – that’s too simplistic for a large-scale gig – and as the night wore on and restlessness set in (“when is this going to be over?”), I feared he wouldn’t get to enjoy any of the others.
Granted, he’d already made me proud by shunning “Yesterday,” a flawless composition I can still do without; “Daddy, I don’t like this song," he whispered, without the slightest prompting from his pop. But I let out a big sigh of relief when Pring plucked out the first few notes of “Here Comes the Sun,” spiking Sam’s energy level so high, he was still wide awake at midnight and eager for more.
“Why did they not play ‘Ticket to Ride’?” he asked on our way back into the fair. I'd ask the same question about "Hello Goodbye," "Can't Buy Me Love," "Strawberry Fields Forever," "I Am the Walrus," "I Feel Fine," "Revolution," "Let It Be," "Back in the U.S.S.R.," "Drive My Car," "Something" ... it's a long list.
“I don’t know, kiddo,” I replied. “I would have liked to have heard that one, too. They must have run out of time.”
“Oh, because they were tired?”
“Umm … yeah, I’m sure they’re pretty tired.”
“Yeah. It’s been a long day. Let’s go home and play it on your Beatles game.”
Setlist: The Fab Four and Surfin’ Safari at Pacific Amphitheatre, Costa Mesa, Aug. 4, 2012
Surfin’ Safari: Surfin’ Safari / Surfer Girl / Catch a Wave / Fun, Fun, Fun / In My Room / Wouldn’t It Be Nice / I Get Around
The Fab Four: I Want to Hold Your Hand / All My Loving / A Hard Day’s Night / I Should Have Known Better / Eight Days a Week / Yesterday / She Loves You / I Saw Her Standing There / Twist and Shout
Surfin’ Safari: Barbara Ann / All Summer Long / Do It Again / Help Me, Rhonda / I Can Hear Music / Kokomo / Good Vibrations / California Girls
The Fab Four: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band >;;;; With a Little Help from My Friends / Yellow Submarine / Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise) > Got to Get You Into My Life / Imagine / Here Comes the Sun / Hey Jude
Both groups: God Only Knows / Surfin’ U.S.A.
What's left at Pacific: Jeff Dunham, Aug. 5, $39.50-$69.50 ... the All-American Rejects, Aug. 8, $25-$45 ... Heart, Aug. 9, $22.50-$52.50 ... Martina McBride, Aug. 10, $35.75-$65.75 ... Duran Duran, Aug. 11, $29.75-$89.75 ... "Weird Al" Yankovic, Aug. 12, $17.75-$37.75.
By BEN WENER / THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER