"Rain", the mother of all cover bands, is dousing Philadelphia once again with its "Beatles Experience" at The Academy of Music until this coming Sunday. The show is a high tech, high voltage, surround sound, multi-media concert, featuring the band, "Rain" as The Beatles. The band consists of: Steve Landes on Vocals, Rhythm, Guitar, Piano, Harmonica (presumably as John), Joey Curatolo on Vocals, Bass, Piano, Guitar (presumably as Paul) Joe Bithorn on Vocals, Lead Guitar (presumably as George) and Ralph Castelli on Drums, Percussion, Vocals (presumably as Ringo). I say "presumably" because in the program there is no billing as to what characters they are portraying. Mark Lewis plays Keyboards and Percussion masked in black as to be invisible until the end of the show when he is allowed to take a curtain call.
Covering the Fab Four's rise from their first Ed Sullivan show to Abbey Road and after, the concert is divided into five sets: 1964 - Ed Sullivan Show, Shea Stadium, The Sgt. Pepper Era, Flower Power and Abbey Road. This vaudeville features five different scene and costume changes, three video screens, live camera projection (as the band is playing onstage) with historical video footage from the '60's and '70's and a state of the art light show. All the music is performed live with no pre-recorded tapes or sequences (which is announced before each performance). And I must say that some of the effects they achieve live which the Beatles only did in the studio are quite exciting. A good example being the end of a "Day In the Life", which was orchestrated by George Martin with real instruments for the album - but recreated here with only a synthesizer.
The video projections are fun as they set up each new scene with a taste of that era. They include old cigarette and laundry commercials which we now find hysterically funny and of course lots of screaming Beatles fans. Footage of the Beatles themselves is never included and any photos shown are re-creations of famous Beatles' photos with the members of Rain instead. The costumes look completely authentic and get wilder and more vivid as the band progresses into the psychedelic era -- the Sgt. Pepper's costumes achieving an eye dazzling, brilliant Technicolor.
During the first set (1964 - The Ed Sullivan Show) - I was a bit disappointed - as I didn't feel that these singer/actor/musicians looked like the Fab Four when they were in their twenties. But as the evening progresses and the costumes change and the hair gets longer and the mustaches and beards get shaggier - I felt that the effect was more realistic.
To give them their due, Joey Curatolo does a dead on Paul McCartney imitation. He looks like him, acts like him and sings beautifully. He also has the most interaction with the audience - telling us when to "scream", "stand up", "sing", "clap", "put your hands up in the air", etc. Most of the audience willingly plays along and we are asked numerous times if we are "having a good time?" He also jokes with the audience is quick with the repartee which he encourages. Joe Bithorn gets to rock out and play a wailing guitar solo (as George) on "As My Guitar Gently Weeps". Steve Landes bends his knees and chews gum while performing (as was John Lennon's wont) and Ralph Castelli bobs his head and smiles affably as the ever amicable Ringo. Mr. Castelli's drums sound louder than Ringo's probably ever did, but that's because he, along with all the other band members, are miked to the hilt. This is not a bad thing, as we get to hear just about every lyric that's sung. The bulk of the audience, of course, consists of people who grew up when the Beatles dominated the music scene and by the end of the evening the crowd is not unlike one, big, giant, Karioke fest swaying with their hands up in the air singing, "Hey, Jude" and "Give Peace a Chance" - two of the band's encore numbers. It's funny that my 18 year old son seemed to get more of a kick out of the evening than I did. Perhaps that's because I felt that when we applaud Rain, we're applauding them for playing someone else's songs well. When you're at a real rock concert you applaud not only the band's performance but the fact that they composed the music as well.
One thing that should be noted is that, unlike the Beatles who were controversial throughout their entire careers, being outspoken on many topics like sex, drugs, and the war in Vietnam, Rain steers clear of any comments either political or philosophical. So, if you're a fan of Beatles music and want to clap and sing along -- this is your show. Rain is most decidedly a very entertaining " tribute band". However, they are not The Beatles. Let's face it - no one ever will be.