There was a time in my life — a cold and cynical time — when I would have scoffed at the idea of attending a performance of a Beatles tribute band. I’m a longtime Beatles fan, but I would have thought that hearing anyone else play their music was somehow doing a disservice to the music, or the memory of the band, or some other aesthetic construct in my mind.
Fortunately I no longer harbor such silly thoughts, so I was able to go to Friday’s performance of the Classical Mystery Tour with the Pittsburgh Symphony with an open mind and happy heart. It was a terrific time. The Classical Mystery Tour band is great fun and has a cleverly scripted show, which they perform skillfully. And it’s a treat to have the orchestral parts of songs like “A Day in the Life” and the string quartet accompaniment for “Yesterday” performed by our own Pittsburgh Symphony musicians.
Does it matter whether the band members look like the Beatles, sing like them, talk like them, dress like them? Those resemblances are part of the show, clearly, and there’s a charge you get watching and hearing a live performance that sounds very like something you’ve always wanted to hear. Tony Kishman really does sound, quite often, quite like Paul McCartney does in recordings; during “The Long and Winding Road,” I forgot for just a moment that I was hearing someone singing live, so true to the recording was the performance. Same with Jim Owen singing as John Lennon, through all the surreal lyrics of “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” “I Am the Walrus,” and “Strawberry Fields Forever.” He may not have quite hit the cracked-vocal-cord intensity of Lennon during “Twist and Shout,” but it was good fun all the same.
My brother Jude attended the concert with me. His whole life, Jude has had people sing “Hey Jude” to him on all manner of occasions. When he was young he hated it, the way you resent any play on your name that’s gotten old. Before the show, Jude told me that these days he doesn’t dislike it quite so much, though it’s still not his favorite. When the band came back for the encore and Tony Kishman/McCartney headed toward the piano, I had a feeling what song we would hear next. And indeed it was “Hey Jude,” and the song was perfect, with these talented musicians playing and singing, and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra filling out the chorus and filling the hall, and then the audience singing along. Jude was singing too, and smiling. How could he not?