Something about these Fab 40 concerts at Discovery Green makes Aftermath swell with pride at the mere fact of being a Houstonian. Seeing several dozen musicians of every age and race on stage together recreating a landmark album note for note, all in the shadow of the skyline, in front of thousands of fans of every age and race would do that for anybody.
What's more, the weather cooperated. Although there were dark clouds rollin' in every direction, scarcely a drop of rain fell the whole night through. The night was cool, and in quiet intervals from the stage, in places you could hear a swamp chorus of frogs in the park's lake.
This show followed in the wake of 2007's recreation of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, first performed at the Continental Club and later restaged at Disco Green. As with all of the shows, the Abbey Road show opened with a combo - some natives of India, others American - seated in a semi-circle on the stage, playing Beatles songs on sitars, tablas, harmonium and guitar.
As you might imagine, the group worked over George Harrison's mystical late-period material pretty thoroughly, and their version of "Across the Universe" transcended a shaky vocal to captivate much of the audience. To us, though, the revelation was their curry-scented version of "A Hard Day's Night"; we would like to hear more of the Beatles pre-Rubber Soul material retroactively Indianized.
As for the recreation of the album itself, it's a testament to the Fab 40 that our reaction to each of the songs is the same as our reaction has always been to those on the record. Well, maybe "always" is not correct; as a kid, two of our favorite songs were "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" and "Octopus's Garden," and now we think they are both buzz-kills, even if it was funny that the Fab 40 let drummer/group co-organizer Steve Candelari sing Ringo's octopus ditty.
At any rate, it's more proof that the Beatles never did release a perfect album. Had "Penny Lane" and "Strawberry Fields Forever" been on Sgt. Pepper as originally planned, and "Within You Without You" removed, that would have been the one...
"Come Together" choogled along nicely, the 40 doing a nice job of recreating the old rotary phone effect. "Something" was as achingly gorgeous as ever, a great Ray Charles tune Ray never recorded; "Oh! Darling" sounded like the great Gulf Coast swamp-pop number it is, maybe even more so next to a real swamp full of frogs; "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" was a favorite of when Aftermath was a young man, but now we think it goes on a bit too long, though the bridge is still cool.
At around this point, orders came down from the stage to shut down the impromptu dance floor that had erupted in the front of the stage, to the relief of many seated behind the dancers. Personally, we think people should dance at Beatles shows; making people sit brings a recital-like quality to the affair we don't think is quite true to the Beatles' spirit.
With those mildly bad vibes in the air, there came what used to be called the "Side 2" opener, "Here Comes the Sun," as glorious a piece of popular music as any from the entire 20th century. Along with local hero Johnny Nash's "I Can See Clearly Now," it's one of those songs that could save lives in pill, liqui-gel or capsule form, or hey, maybe people could just listen to them. Hearing it live in such a true-to-life rendition certainly lifted my mood.
The rest of Abbey Road's Side 2 was a glorious mess on record, as it was onstage. The 16-minute medley's highlight for me was always "Sun King," especially McCartney's warm, burbling bass and the gorgeous, soft harmonies. And of course the way the whole shebang closed with that simple moment of clarity: "And in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love you make." 15 words that redeem the entire proceeding 15 minutes...
As with all Fab 40 concerts, there was an extended encore of Beatles songs, one so long it really amounted to another set. The dancefloor was officially reopened and we put our four-year-old daughter, Harriet, on our shoulders and joined the scrum. (Our 13-year-old son, John Henry, was with a pack of his buddies, running around the park clad only in shorts - where else can a kid do that downtown?)
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The encore ran the gamut from Cavern Club-type rockers like "I Saw Her Standing There" to apocalyptic late-period tunes like "Revolution #1" and even "I Am the Walrus" and "Strawberry Fields Forever," which the Fab 40 stamped so indelibly on all of our minds that I saw about five people singing it on their way to their cars. The dancers ranged in age from 4 to 74, most of them singing along to every word, some with tears of joy in their eyes.
The band did get a little sloppy in this set - one singer tripped up badly on the lyrics to "Ob-La Di, Ob-La-Da" and the inclusion of the lovely but hardly danceable "Martha My Dear" vacated the dance floor quicker than a skunk on the loose - "Dear Prudence" would have been a better choice given the show's flow. And they wrapped it all up with "All You Need is Love" and "Hey Jude," our first favorite song of all time ever. (We were five at the time.)
One more little whine before we go Aftermath wishes Discovery Green would institute Miller Outdoor's segregated blanket-and-lawnchair seating. Letting them all mix willy-nilly ensures that the blanket people will have a hard time running down a patch of grass with a clear line of sight.
Earlier last week, we had been getting a little tired of the Fab Four Hoopla of the Great Rock Band / Remaster Extravaganza, but this show reminded us that the lads were worth all that media overkill. Well... almost.