Many a Beatles tribute band has come along over the years, the majority of them going for that “look–alike, sound–alike” experience, with matching suits and mop–top wigs, maybe a quick change into day–glo military uniforms and droopy French moustaches.
Although the bands are quite proficient musically, the whole thing becomes more of an exercise in nostalgic theater than live rock ‘n’ roll. Everything, at the end of the day, feels canned.
That’s exactly what guitarist Michael Wegner and his cohorts in the band Abbey Road Live were trying to avoid when they put their band together eight years ago.
“That approach didn’t interest us,” Wegner says. “We have to start with the premise that even if we wanted to, I don’t think we could look very convincing.”
Instead, Abbey Road Live was a natural offshoot of the Fuzzy Sprouts, a popular original–music band in the Athens area.
“It was kind of a one–time show that we did as this other band,” explains Wegner. “We thought we’d do something a little different: ‘Let’s learn the Abbey Road album and play it.’ And it was a lot of fun. A great musical experience too.”
Wegner’s point of interest was simple: In their final few years as a studio–only band, the Beatles ceased playing live shows. So much of the material, from Revolver to Let it Be, had never been experienced by a massed communal congregation of fans. “They stopped touring before most of this material was written,” says Wegner, “and it’s just more interesting, from a musical point of view.”
Playing Abbey Road, from start to finish, opened the Georgia musicians’ eyes – and ears. “It seemed like a great starting point, especially for a four–piece band. Even though Abbey Road is sort of this pinnacle of the Beatles’ later years, and I always associate those years with studio tricks, heavy orchestrations and backwards tape loops – it’s actually a pretty basic rock album. It doesn’t have all that Sgt. Pepper, Magical Mystery Tour craziness. It lends itself very well to just having a four–piece rock band pull it off.”
Abbey Road Live makes a return trip to Savannah Friday – the band has played here numerous times over the years. This visit, they’ll be at Live Wire Music Hall.
Don’t expect Wegner (guitars, keyboards, sitar and other instruments), lead guitarist Timi Conley, drummer Andrew Hanmer and bassist Dave Domizi to do any “shtick” – they are proficient musicians who are there to honor the music.
They will, however, throw in a few “Twist and Shout”-era hits, as the mood strikes them. “The older stuff is great because it gets the audience to dance,” Wegner says, “but I don’t think you’ll ever see us come out and do one early hit after another, or do a Shea Stadium concert re–creation.”
Instead, the sets include everything from “Strawberry Fields Forever” to “Here Comes the Sun.” Although Abbey Road Live has, on occasion, performed with strings and/or horns, there’ll be no massive orchestrations or complex arrangements at the Live Wire show.
As someone once said, it’s really only rock ‘n’ roll.
“Take a song like ‘Come Together,’” Wegner offers. “It’s a 3–minute, radio–friendly song, and at the end it just sort of fades out, then it’s over. We take that, and our version of ‘Come Together’ is probably six minutes long. We jam on it in a certain way, with some dynamics ... we’re not a jam band, per se, but we try to make it a musical experience.
“I always try to imagine well, if the Beatles had toured in 1969, what might they have done? Where they were in their level of creativity at the time, I’m pretty sure they would’ve changed some stuff around, maybe extended some stuff. It was 1969. There would’ve been some jamming going on.”
And always, from band to audience and back again, there’s great respect and appreciation for the songs themselves.
“The Beatles,” Wegner says, “have kind of become the new classical music. Even if we did play stuff note–for–note, it’s just such great music. And to bring it into a live setting, and feel an audience respond to it, that’s pretty great.”
Abbey Road Live
Where: Live Wire Music Hall, 307 W. River St.
When: At 10 p.m. Friday, Nov. 12
Tickets: $8 advance, $10 day of show