Music ReviewsREVIEWS

Rain: A Tribute to The Beatles

Produced by Broadway in Chicagorain;  a tribute to the beatles

At the Oriental Theatre, Chicago

Feel so suicidal, even hate my rock and roll

My connection to the Beatles is not one of nostalgia; I am a child of the children who watched the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show – a Gen Y-er, or whatever term the corporate superstructure has decided to brand us at the moment.  And so my connection with the Beatles is on purely musical terms.  As a musician, I take those terms very seriously: when someone plays the Beatles, they are playing something sacred, and to tarry into sacrilege is all-too-easy.  The question, then, is ultimately whether Rain manages to walk this tight-rope or die by their double-edged sword.

Before the show, the theatre is filled with the sounds that influenced Merseybeat: Buddy Holly, the Shirelles, Carl Perkins, setting the backdrop for the Beatles’ early material (though thankfully avoiding the doldrums of pre-Invasion American music from the 60s, like Billboard No. 1 “Sugar Shack”).  As the show starts, they play some 50s commercials on the two side-stage screens, including a commercial where Flintstones characters sell cigarettes; this got a big laugh.  I guess I missed how cartoon characters selling cigarettes to children is funny.  Anyway, the screen then cuts to an Ed Sullivan impersonator, who introduces the band.  The curtain goes up, and Rain takes the stage, dressed just as the Beatles were during their first appearance on the show, and go directly into “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”  From there, it’s nonstop Beatles for the next two hours, costume changes included.

rain;  a tribute to the beatles

The first thing to say is that the musicianship on stage is very good.  There’s no Jimi up there, but aside from Paul, the Beatles were never spectacular musicians anyway, so that’s not a problem.  And the band does nail the music.  There is never a misplayed note or poor timing; they’re tight.  But the sound mix is uninspiring: the drums are hot, the vox a bit weak, the guitars occasionally drowned out by the bass.  It was all too loud – probably a decision made to assist those audience members starting to experience hearing loss.  At a professional-level show, you expect better.  This was certainly a step up from your local bar band sound guy, but I’ve seen more well-executed sound at the Riviera, as well as countless other music venues.  Rain did have all the right equipment: John’s black Rickenbacker 325, Paul’s Höfner 500/1, George’s Gretsch Country Gentleman – and they all had the now-iconic Vox amplifiers.  Graham Alexander could sing quite a lot like Paul, including the belty bits; but Steve Landes could not get John’s throaty howl right for the life of him.  It was much too Broadway.  And Alexander is not as much a tenor as Paul was: the highest parts were just out of his range.  Tom Teeley (“George”) and Doug Cox (“Ringo”) sang very little, although Teeley was an admirable harmonizer.

rain;  a tribute to the beatles

This is a Broadway piece, so it is supposed to be, in some sense, theatre – so were the four people on stage in character?  Alexander certainly was: he has Paul’s ingratiating, insipid demeanor down to a tee; he asked for applause for this or that at least six or seven times and must have cried “Chicago!” about 20.  Landes seemed much too peppy to be John, and Teeley jumped around more than I think George ever would have done; but Cox managed to throw in as much character as he could with two fingers, constantly holding up the peace sign, making a caricature of the caricature that is Ringo Starkey.  They also have the aforementioned side-stage screens, as well as a backdrop, onto which images are continually projected.  To my count, they worked well twice: once, before the second “act,” when “All Along the Watchtower” was played over images of bombs dropping on Vietnam (“‘There must be some way out of here,’ said the joker to the thief”), and again during the song “I Am the Walrus,” during which the trippy psychedelia burbling on the screens augmented the piece; the rest of the time it was either gimmicky or downright distracting, with many of the earlier songs having tacky Yellow Submarine-esque moving backdrops.

rain;  a tribute to the beatles

One of the largest problems with this show was venue selection: it makes no sense if there’s not a dance floor.  This is rock and roll, after all, and it’s got a backbeat – you can’t lose it.  Myriad sexagenarians dancing around down front may not be the least ridiculous image one could conjure up, but let’s be honest, they can’t dance any worse than the 20-somethings; they just have extra padding and gray hair.  It also alleviates the band from saying, “Okay, everyone stand up for this number!” and the audience obliges, fidgets awkwardly in the two square feet provided, and when the number ends they slowly sit down, wondering if the lights and cameras pointed from on stage toward the dark recesses in the back projected their shame on-screen for everyone to see.  A small tip to the stage hands: if the audience isn’t feeling it that night (which can’t be uncommon), skip the crowd-panning camera shots.

In the later part of the first act, Rain are joined by their Billy Preston, Chris Smallwood, who helps them synthesize the sounds on albums like Sgt. Pepper’s and gives them the Hammond B3 sound the blues numbers need.  Cleverly, they hid all of Smallwood’s equipment, so whether he had a real B3 (I doubt it) or just a deck of synthesizers is anybody’s guess.  Speaking of equipment, they do advance: Teeley picks up the 12-string Rickenbacker 360 before going to his version of Harrison’s Stratocaster “Rocky,” followed by the Rosewood Telecaster he used on the rooftop concert, and then finally to his Les Paul, “Lucy;” Alexander nabs a Rickenbacker 4001S; and Landes brings out Lennon’s trademark Casino, as well as, at the very end, his modified Les Paul Junior.  However, and this is only salient because they change the rest of their equipment, never do they switch from the Vox amplifiers that the Beatles started out with (once they were signed – in Hamburg they, like the Animals, used Selmers) to the Fenders the band later preferred.  It would not be hard to change amps: live bands do it all the time, some acts, from Elvis Costello to Green Day, using as many as five or more for each guitar.  So I question their decision not to, if their goal is to replicate the sound of the Beatles as closely as they can.  This is also a connoisseur’s caveat, but everything on stage looked so new – which is not necessarily a good thing when it comes to instruments.  I found myself guessing that the Vox amps were probably made in China instead of England, the Epiphone Casino in Malaysia instead of Kalamazoo, and the Junior almost certainly in the Gibson Custom Shop (there were only 300 John Lennon Signature Models made, and, while it is cool that they have one, it has the air of corporatism instead of the individualistic esprit of Lennon’s original).  And Teeley’s fuzz pedal sounds awful.  It sounded like a digital, Chinese-made rip-off instead of one of the incredible analog American, British, or Japanese fuzz pedals that dominated the market in the 60s and early 70s.  This band clearly has money; why not use it?  Buy the equipment the music deserves.

rain;  a tribute to the beatles

As a musician myself, I can’t help thinking these guys have quite the racket going: they’re up there, playing music they love, almost every night.  That’s cool.  And they all seem to have healthy extra-Rain careers in the industry, so even while their lives revolve around imitating other musicians to pay their bills, maybe they do something original on their own time.  They’re clearly making a lot of money with these gigs, and being able to support yourself solely through music is a rare accomplishment – and one I hope to achieve myself one day.  I make no bones about that.  But simply feeding off the previous generation’s (I refuse to use the term “Baby Boomers,” and find the fact that the Fort Worth Star Telegram called this show “Boomer Heaven” oh-so telling) bloodlust for nostalgia and good old days that never were (Let It Be was released four days after Kent State) seems parasitic.  What’s more, behind the music is nothing but kitsch.  The costumes don’t enhance the experience, nor, by and large, do the on-screen projections; none of it makes the most important part of the show – the music – any better.  If anything, all the ornamentation detracts from what the Beatles were truly about: the songs.  Putting cheap wigs and chintzy costumes on (the Sgt. Pepper costumes offended particularly), and playing the tracks note-for-note does not intone the spirit of the Beatles – something you can immediately identify, for instance, in the Libertines’ cover of “8 Days a Week,” never mind that it’s not an exact replica of the original.  Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles is unadulterated schlock.  And charging up to $75 a ticket, just because that generation has money to blow, is too much.  These guys aren’t Muse.  For $75, I should see Matthew Bellamy being lowered from the rafters belting “Starlight,” ripping through a solo using his guitar-mounted Kaoss Pad.

If you are a graybeard with an insatiable need for a nostalgia trip, if your head will explode without reminiscing about how good Yip Pips were and your knees get all wobbly every time you think of PVC culottes, then this show may be for you.  If you want to hear exciting music that reaps what the Beatles have sown, go see Arctic Monkeys next time they’re in town, or pick up the Vaccines’ debut in March.

Not Recommended.

Will Fink

Date Reviewed: February 8, 2011

For full show information, check out  the Rain:  A Tribute to The Beatles page at Theatre In Chicago.

At the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St, Chicago, IL; call (800)775-2000 or visit; tickets $35-$75; Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday at 7:30, Friday and Saturday at 8, matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2; running time 2 hours 20 minutes with one intermission; until February 13th.

3 thoughts on “Rain: A Tribute to The Beatles

  • desalvo d

    Mr. Fink,
    Your music vocabulary is impressive, however, your lack of historical knowledge, fused with an arrogance to try to even remotely connect to the “why” of our generation makes me think that someday, your generation Y body will not only be wrought with padding, but your gray matter will, too.
    Just because you take playing music “seriously” does not make you a musician. You are unevolved, immature, and quite parasitic yourself. To whine about a generation’s music that affords you a job to criticize, poke fun at, and not critique, makes me think that I would enjoy watching and listening to your self proclaimed musical talent, all the while being lowered from the rafters belting “Starlight,” ripping through a solo using your guitar-mounted Kaoss Pad. By the way, explain your incessant focus on Vox amplifiers?! While I understand that the British Invasion brought forth their sound system, they were used by other bands as well.
    So sorry you missed the crux of this show. It’s about nostalgia and a time that the Beatles quite literally, spoke for this “padded” during a time when the world struggled with challenges such as the Vietnam War and Kent State. By the way, the reason the audience “laughed” during the Flinstones commercial was NOT because it was funny, but because, back in the day, cigarette commercials were rampant and today you don’t see that. It’s called evolved irony!

  • You’re right; calling myself a musician, saying I’m serious about music, doesn’t make me a musician; devoting my life to music and practicing every day, writing every day, makes me a musician. Although I don’t recall claiming that I am a monolith of talent. And I’m not sure where I belittle the music of the 60s: only the charade that was happening onstage; in fact, my music is much more closely related to “Don’t Let Me Down” and “Wild Thing” than to Muse. And by the way, I’d never want to be lowered from the rafters, belt “Starlight,” or have a Kaoss pad on my guitar – that’s Matt Bellamy’s show, he’s been quite successful with it, and he can have it; my point with that passage was that, for the amount of money this show costs, one could see a band that has won 14 awards for “Best Live Act” around the world over the past 8 years.

    I mention Vox amplifiers thrice, which is hardly an obsession, and each time in a relevant way to the show; as I said, for a band that wants to sound exactly like the Beatles, changing from Vox to Fender amplifiers is important – especially since they did change all of their guitars, multiple times. And I’m aware that other bands played them, but my point was that it was these bands who signed a deal with Vox that made the company so popular, on both sides of the Atlantic. In fact, it was this deal that eventually forced Selmer out of business: they didn’t have the marketing savvy of Vox, and so, when all the unsigned bands who used Selmers became signed and agreed to exclusively use Vox amplifiers, and subsequently became sensations, Selmer (a company that produced equipment equal to Vox’s) was left in the dust.

    According to you, I didn’t miss the crux of this show – rather, I nailed it on the head: nostalgia. And I find that a poor reason for this group to exist. Just stay at home and listen to the LPs; the tacky costumes do not make the experience any better. And the Beatles, like Bob Dylan, were not the voice of a generation by choice: they were elected – nay, appointed to be so, and had little say in the matter themselves. And is the voice of that generation made any clearer by a group dressing like them 40 years on? If anything, it cheapens the original clarion call of the band.

    I concede the reason you give to be why you laughed at the Flintstones commercial; but I, too, can remember a time when cigarettes were marketed to children: I lived through it, and, as much as the cigarette companies can get away with the practice, they still do it today. I’m the first to say we should exorcise this country’s demons, and the Flintstones commercial fits that bill; it was just so chauvinistic, with Fred and Barney watching the women work and then popping back for a smoke, that I couldn’t find it in myself to laugh. I understand where the humor could come from – the sheer absurdity of something like that being aired today – I just couldn’t partake, in this instance.

    As for not understanding your generation, I disagree; I actually consider myself something of a student of your generation: I recently finished a collection of Lester Bangs’ work; have read several of Hunter S. Thompson’s books and am in the middle of his account of the 1972 election; worked my way through Bob Dylan’s autobiography; and generally find the decade of the 60s (ca. 1964-1972) fascinating. This is not to say I have some knowledge of the era those who lived through it do not – quite the contrary. But I learn what I can from where I can. More generally, your dependence on ad hominem attacks belies your lack of real arguments.


  • I am a musician as well. (In fact, I am currently hunting down a vintage fender black face pro reverb to buy much to the chagrin of my wife!) Played in bands most of my life but decided to go to law school instead of Berekely. Do I regret the decision? Hard to say. I played out enough to know that a musician’s life can be tough and not particularly condusive to raising a family. Great guitarists are now a dime a dozen. I just turned 49 and so motivating for your local open mike night is frankly hard to do.

    Anyway, I just went to the Rain show yesterday with my wife and soon to be 16 year old daughter. My daughter is completely immensed in the Beatles at the moment. I think Beatles Rock Band and her course in popluar music in high school this year are to thank more than my own influence I’m sorry to say! My mandatory language class in high school resulted in me being able to say “Donde esta?” and “Como se yermo”!!!

    I hear what desalvo d is saying. The show, although fun, was ok. We did have orchestra seats which helped. I thought the guitarists were good and the keyboard player who did not dress up to be a very talented player. Perhaps he should have dressed up as Billy Preston? I also agree that the ticket cost was way high but so is everything else right? Were the ads necessary? The answer is no. The show could survive stripped down abit. For instance a live Ed Sullivan introducing the band would be better IMO. I even got slightly dizzy looking at the moving screen behind the Beatles’ trivia questions before the show and during intermission. But, the thing to remeber here is that it was simply a fun thing to do with your family. In fact my earliest memories of hearing the Beatles’ music was family related. Seems like Yesterday that I was playing my older sister’s LP of a Hard Days Night thinking that music could never get any better. The truth is it hasn’t. But ya know, after the show I went into my music room, picked up my Gibson acoustic and re-learned Blackbird after “rewinding” the White Album CD over and over again for 2 hours. My 13 year old son thought I had a problem! The bottom line is music inspires, no matter what (if only slightly flawed or misdirected) form, function or amp. Times are different. Music has changed. We now have a Lady Gaga and Steven Tyler on American Idol. So anything that spreads the word and song of the almighty Beatles is ok in my book. I just wish the spread could be for less bread.


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