Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles Bayou Music Center April 12, 2013
Apparently the Beatles began when they appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in February 1964 -- four fully formed lads from Liverpool in moptops and nifty dark suits.
That is the premise behind Rain, whose five-man touring company reached Houston this weekend with three shows at Bayou Music Center, Friday night and Saturday matinee and evening shows. A few blocks away, the real Beatles gave their one and only Houston appearance -- also in a matinee/evening doubleheader -- in August 1965 at the Sam Houston Coliseum. Never mind the Quarrymen days or all those nights in Hamburg's red-light district, Rain begins right after Sullivan uttered those fateful words, "Ladies and gentlemen... The Beatles!"
In a way, that makes sense; Sullivan is how probably how 98 percent of of the Beatles' American fans who were alive in 1964 became aware of the band. Packaging some two hours of their music as a theater concert with a few costume changes is both logical and probably just about the only way to treat a band with such a complicated history and still-pervasive influence on today's pop music.
With two video screens flanking the stage as the songs unspooled in sequence, the early part of Friday night's show unfolded much as one of their Sullivan appearances must have, with the band bobbing their heads and racing through "She Loves You," "Please Please Me," "I Wanna Hold Your Hand," "A Hard Day's Night" and a few others in short order. (An outgrowth of another musical, Beatlemania, the original Rain ran for more than 300 shows on Broadway between October 2010 and July 2011.)
When the show reached the famous Shea Stadium concert (which happened four days before the Houston shows), the scenery changes to a real baseball backdrop, as onscreen security set about chasing fans through the outfield. Only "Eleanor Rigby" was out of order, but at least we got something from Revolver Friday; Rubber Soul was shut out entirely. Animation fashioned after A Hard Days Night and Yellow Submarine accompanied other parts of the show; the best was reminiscent of noted Beatlemaniacs Monty Python.
As players, the four Rain men were certainly competent, but if I were Houston's Thursday-night Continental-Club staple Beetle, I wouldn't lose a whole lot of sleep. The show grew especially listless and shaky when it reached the period when the Beatles stopped performing concerts, the Sgt. Pepper years.
This is also the time the band began seriously experimenting with hallucinogenic drugs, but as far as Rain is concerned they just started wearing some mighty colorful outfits. (The freakiest part of Friday's show was when the musicians were offstage changing clothes and the screens showed vintage '60s commercials for shampoo and detergent.)
But Rain eventually sprang back to life with mock-George's guitar solo on "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"; he's no Clapton, of course, but gave the show enough of an energy boost for it to coast all the way through Abbey Road (or "The End") on plenty of good vibes. But whoever let the Plastic Ono Band's "Give Peace a Chance" slip onto the set list needs a severe talking-to. Why not "Imagine" too?
There is a great Beatles "jukebox musical" waiting to be made, but Rain isn't it. That one would have to be more imaginative in its song choices and adopt a more PG-13 approach to the Beatles' drug use, romantic entanglements and intra-band tensions that eventually tore them apart. A little more historical context than stock Vietnam/protest footage and a few songs that also happened to be popular at the time would have been nice too, and think of what an R-rated Beatles musical could be -- we might even get John and Yoko in bed together.
But this one isn't bad, really. Rain works best when it presents the Beatles practically out of context, as simply four dapper young men pumping out one snappy pop-rock love song after another. It just falters when it glosses over -- or simply fails to address entirely -- the Beatles who grew much more complex both musically and personally, a band that most fans who met them on Sullivan grew to love just as much.
Personal Bias: Pro-Beatles.
The Crowd: Balcony closed, floor full of silver foxes out on the town and a few actual moptops. When "John" asked anyone in the crowd under age 20 to stand up, about 100 people did.
Overheard In the Crowd: "She's like a teenager with that phone" - said about an older lady taking the opportunity to record a little footage on her smartphone
Random Notebook Dump: After the Ed Sullivan years, it's interesting how much of the Beatles' wardrobe was adapted from military attire, from the ceremonial tailcoats of Sgt. Pepper's through John's fatigue jacket circa Abbey Road.