In almost any other instance, news of a cover band would draw little critical attention. But when the band being honored is the most influential of their century, the venue is the beautifully ornate Oriental Theater, and the tribute’s pedigree boasts a long run on freaking BROADWAY… well there are always exceptions to the rule. Rocking in Chicago for one week only, Broadway in Chicago presents Rain: A Tribute To The Beatles.
Rain is exactly what the title describes, a tribute band performing pitch perfect renditions of classic Beatles tunes. For many this information is more than is necessary and you already have tickets to one or more of the few of performances. For those still unsure of whether you could get the same general experience from a tribute band playing out in Aurora on the third Friday of every month, I can comfortably and unambiguously say you will not. Rain creates an immersive Beatles concert experience, one that honors the artistry, rocks your socks off, and perhaps most importantly folds their body of work into the sociopolitical narrative that modern generations will either forget or distort in time.
From end to end, the visuals are spectacular. Sprawling backdrops adorned the stage, with classic iconography from their various eras from the Ed Sullivan Show and their iconic performance at Shea Stadium through to Abbey Road and the rooftop setting of their final public performance. Two large projectors displayed video clips of interviews, commercials from the era, and footage (or faithful recreations) of their more abstract Sgt Pepper and Yellow Submarine phase. Costumes were wonderful and the fluidity with which they shifted sets was very impressive. My absolute favorite touch was the beautiful Hofner bass (left handed, of course) wielded by McCartney during the first act, and all the beautifully restored Vox cabinets, though they got substantial help from the theater’s sound system. Perhaps more satisfying than hearing Day Tripper live is to feel the drum kick and the bass thump, that visceral smack you can only get from live rock bands.
The cast list for Rain includes many names, however the Chicago cast is Jim Irazarry (John), Mac Ruffing (Paul), Tom Teeley (George), and Douglas Cox (Ringo). All were very good facsimiles of the originals from playing style to on stage mannerisms to between song audience banter. Did I mention the chaps perform these songs live? While they didn’t all look exactly like their subjects, the band never purports that they are, in fact, the Beatles. They even overtly call themselves Rain and do not call each other by their first names. There is no drama, or period appropriate tense moments between band members. It’s all about hearing a high caliber band paying a wonderful homage for an impressively diverse group of musicians.
Perhaps the greatest aspect of Rain is the narrative it creates. The show is staged chronologically (although they do a few “old hits” in later sets, which is actually kind of genius), and interspersed are the video clips and the backdrops and the little trivia pieces during the show. I learned more about the Beatles than I ever needed to learn, but I also got some insight into why they spoke to their generation. The light, fun attitudes grew darker and more politically aware as the band evolved into different styles. In such a volatile era, The Beatles always kept that fun and peace loving underpinning, which in context makes a song like A Day In The Life more darkly satirical, or Give Peace a Chance more bluntly radical than when heard through a modern lens. Rain captures the essence of the era, allowing the serious themes to resonate but never losing the spirit of having a good time.
So enjoy life. Buy a VW microbus, get your bell bottoms out of moth balls. Go see Rain, which is only playing in Chicago through Sunday, or travel to another town and see it. Rekindle the dying art of following tours, and if your job asks you can at least claim it was on once on Broadway.
Photos provided courtesy of Broadway in Chicago.