Thebarton Theatre, Sat 16 May
It is probably a pretty tough gig, emulating the world’s most popular and, arguably for some, best-ever pop group. Despite that, in most cities of the world you are likely to find a Beatles cover band. Such is the enduring appeal of the Fab Four, there is a healthy interest among music fans in hearing Beatles’ songs performed live.
The Bootleg Beatles, “the world’s premier Beatles show”, are probably at the top of the tribute band pile. They’ve been doing this since 1980, when the group played its first-ever show in Tiverton, Devon. The current line-up of Adam Hastings (John), Steve White (Paul), Stephen Hill (George) and Hugo Degenhardt (Ringo) has a lot to live up to; reviews have been consistently positive as the band’s prominence has grown over the years.
The Bootlegs, in full Beatlemania garb, take the stage in front of a reasonable-sized and eager Thebarton Theatre crowd. From the opening chorus of She Loves You the place is spirited away to another time. This is as close to a flawless representation of The Beatles that is to be seen, anywhere. The look, the instruments, the movements, the chat and, most importantly, the music are almost perfect. It is a testament to the musicianship of the current band and the attention to detail, and to the sheer joy and quality of the early Beatles’ songs, that something like this can happen in 2015. The only thing missing is the screaming, which probably means that the musical performance is technically better than most of the original Fabs’ concerts.
The bass lines are magnificent; no short cuts there, and the lead solos from Bootleg George are as close to the records as any could be. The lead vocals and the harmonies are top-notch. It is rapturous. The songs cover the period up until The Beatles ceased touring, with the Bootlegs playing great renditions of classics ranging from 1963’s From Me To You right up to Taxman, from the matchless Revolver album. After 45 minutes of total brilliance the boys take a 25-minute break (about as long as an original Beatles’ concert!).
The second half of the show sees the band donning Sgt. Pepper outfits as they present a showcase of The Beatles’ later works. Bootleg John plays keyboards for the bulk of the set, and a small “orchestra” helps out with some of the brass, string and keyboard requirements. It is a treat to see these works presented live, something the original band never managed. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds and I Am The Walrus provide a rare glimpse of what might have been. Once again, the music is flawless, and the rest of the show is wonderful to see and hear.
If there is a danger with a show like this, it is that some of the banter, and some of lead vocals, might come close to parody. The Bootleg Beatles get it right just about every time.
After a sublime solo version of While My Guitar Gently Weeps, the boys return in, more or less, Let It Be outfits, and continue the show. A beautiful Because is followed by a few rockers (Get Back, Revolution), as well as the moving Here Comes The Sun. Once again, the musical proficiency of the band is emphasised. The night draws to an eventual close, after a most enjoyable two and a half hours, with the anthemic mastery of Hey Jude.
The first half of tonight’s show wins, by the smallest of measures, but this might well be a personal thing. The whole experience is fab, and this writer could watch The Bootleg Beatles over and over again.