Here's a quick history lesson. Once the Beatles left the clubs, back in the day, they toured for about three years. Internationally, they went from theaters to arenas to stadiums, and then they quit playing live entirely, to concentrate on studio work. Three years, that was it.
The band called 1964 – The Tribute has been touring for 30 years: Three decades of mop top wigs, bowing in unison and “yeah yeah yeah.”
Do the math—that’s 10 times as long as the actual Beatles did it.
“It’s kind of like being in Cats for a really long time,” laughs Mark Benson, the founder of 1964 – The Tribute, and the guy who “plays” John Lennon. “The natural tendency of any artist—musician, painter, actor, dancer—is to progress in some direction. And our challenge is not to.”
The show, which comes to the Lucas Theatre Saturday, June 21, is performed in period suits and Beatle wigs, the guys’ stage demeanor, guitar stance and between-song banter as historically accurate as possible.
All four are real musicians who’ve decided to make “Beatling” their life’s work. Benson, in fact, is an accomplished luthier who researches and maintains the group’s cache of vintage instruments and amplifiers.
It’s that attention to detail that makes the Ohio-based 1964 one of the best Beatles tribute bands on the circuit.
This show is an accurate re-creation of an actual mid-1960s Beatles concert, with all of its charismatic live energy. Therefore, the musicians don’t change into brightly colored uniforms and play the psychedelic, Sgt. Pepper-era stuff; nor are there fake beards for a romp through Abbey Road and Let it Be. The Beatles had ceased live gigging by then, so it’s off limits.
“The lion’s share of the set list is the most well-known hits from the first seven records,” says Benson, “which is where we stop— ‘She Loves You,’ ‘Hard Day’s Night,’ ‘Help,’ those are always going to be in the list. You can’t not play ‘Twist and Shout.’ Of course, our show is about three times as long as their show.” A typical Beatles concert lasted about 30 minutes (“25 if we didn’t like you,” Lennon once remembered).
“We have to do songs they didn’t do, because you have to cover 90 minutes instead of 30,” Benson explains. “They did 12 songs and never an encore. We tried to do that initially, telling everybody ‘it’s really authentic,’ but they weren’t having it!”
A 1964 – The Tribute concert includes era-appropriate songs like “In My Life,” “And Your Bird Can Sing,” “Michelle,” “Yellow Submarine” and “I Should Have Known Better,” which the Beatles themselves never performed in concert.
Benson reports that playing the same role since 1984 (at 100-150 shows per year) hasn’t worn him down. “I don’t have another band that I play with, but I write music, and I record,” he says. “So there’s an outlet there.
“And I also oversee the band’s recordings and those kind of things. And the video stuff that’s out there —inasmuch as you can control YouTube, and cell phone videos with people singing along with you out of tune.”
The secret, he says, is in the magic of the Beatles. It’s a pleasure to do what he does.
“It sounds corny and everything, but it really comes down to love,” Benson explains. “That’s what I think is the real reason the Beatles have lasted so long. And are pretty much uncontested as the finest pop group on the planet. I think that most of their music is about some innocent form, or direct form of love. It affects people on a subliminal level. It’s just a very positive thing.
“It’s the audience that keeps it fresh for us. When you look out there, and you see three generations of a family sitting together, and they’re all singing and they’re all clapping, and they leave happy, and nobody’s going ‘Can we go now?,’ when does that happen? I mean, when are you lucky enough to be able to do something that affects everybody so positively?”