The Road Less Traveled: The Fab Four Perform Abbey Road Live — Pacific Amphitheater, Costa Mesa, CA 8/3/2019
Concert review by Eric Sandberg Photos by Mike Berman
"Whew!" Ardy Sarraf must have been thinking moments after crooning "...someday I'm gonna make her mine" last night in Costa Mesa. A lot of the more casual Beatles fans were already flooding the exits when Sarraf and guest guitarist Doug Couture sauntered back on stage to remind everybody that the "The End" isn't quite the end of Abbey Road.
In fact, "Her Majesty" was followed by a relaxed and relief-driven encore of "Hey Jude" forcing many of the early 'Beatlexiteers' to freeze in their spots like latecomers to a baseball park during the National Anthem.
This capped off a sublime evening of Beatles music from Sarraf as Paul McCartney, Joe Bologna emulating Ringo Starr, Liverpudlian Gavin Pring as George Harrison, and Newcastle-Upon-Tyne native Adam Hastings taking the role of John Lennon. The fabulous foursome opened the show with a set of road-worn songs from the Beatles's earlier catalog:
"She Loves You"
"All My Loving"
"Hard Day's Night"
"Eight Days A Week"
"Can't Buy Me Love"
"I Saw Her Standing There"
"Twist And Shout."
Over the past twenty-two years the Fab Four, clad in period-correct Shea Stadium outfits, have played these songs live countless more times than the real Beatles ever did, and it shows. Sarraf and Hastings also provided an updated version of Beatles style banter:
"The people in the cheap seats, clap your hands. The people in the front, rattle your IPhones!"
"We'd like you to stand up for this one............take your time."
After the first set concluded, the momentousness of what the Fab Four were about to attempt started to take them a little bit out of their comfort zone, leading to a couple of Spinal Tap moments. As Bologna riffed on a drum pattern that made me want to shout, 'It's! Time! For Southernnnnn Girls!' Sarraf set about to give away a t-shirt while Hastings and Pring changed into their "professional period" duds backstage.
This went on for quite some time as Doug Couture banged in the dark on a silent keyboard and shook his head. Ultimately, Sarraf and Bologna were forced to perform the Beatles Anthology version of "Got To Get You Into My life" with just the rhythm section. It worked for me. As the crew continued to tackle the technical problems Sarraf and Hastings combined to ask the audience to cheer for the t-shirt winner at least four times. I was afraid someone was going to toss Sarraf a top hat and cane.
Adam Hastings then entertained the crowd dressed in Lennon's iconic 1971 white pants suit before sitting down at the piano to perform "Imagine."
The full band shortly reconvened, aided and abetted by Eric Clapton tribute guitarist Couture on additional guitar [taking several of the leads] and The Fab Four's founder, and original John Lennon, Ron McNeil on keyboards and guitar. The need to augment the band for the task of performing Abbey Road live on stage is the first indicator of the many challenges involved with pulling off such a venture.
Previously, they have been able to perform Sgt. Pepper's in it's entirety with just the four of them — why is this straight rock album a bigger challenge? Mainly because The Beatles took full advantage of EMI Studio's new 8-track console to record Abbey Road, allowing them far more largess to overdub additional guitar, keyboard and percussion elements onto the recording.
They got off to a great start with "Come Together" with McNeil, barely recognizable as himself in the shadows, nailing the electric piano groove. Gavin Pring announced that they were about to play "the best track on the album...along with track seven" and a lovely version of "Something" ensued.
Let's just get this over with right here. "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" is a gawd-awful song and the live performance of it did nothing to change my mind about this. I would have forgiven them for substituting "Mr. Moonlight" in its place.
Moving on, Ardy Sarraf had to sing "Oh Darling" early in a sequence of songs that required him to do a lot of singing. He did a tremendous job. On the technical side, he made clever use of a tight echo effect to shore up the lines that were double tracked by Paul in the studio. Well done, Mr. Sarraf!
Joe Bologna got his moment to step out front for "Octopus's Garden" while Sarraf handled the drums. Bologna, who uncannily apes Ringo's posture and movements on the drum stool, can be forgiven for not imitating Ringo's awkward front man style as, technically, it wouldn't be invented for another couple of decades anyway.
Up next is a song that is begging to be performed live more often, John Lennon's angst-ridden ode to Yoko Ono "I Want You." It was a powerful albeit imperfect performance — Couture's guitar was slightly out of tune which took some of the shimmer off the song's urgent arpeggio and Sarraf, a naturally right-handed player, struggled with the loping solo bass runs that undulate between the staccato guitar bursts. Sarraf shook his head after not quite hitting the mark on any of his three chances.
With side one out of the way, the six musicians braced themselves for the roller coaster ride that is side two of Abbey Road. "Here Comes the Sun" is a deceptively complex number that requires a lot of precision, something you only notice when said precision isn't quite achieved.
"Because" is where things really start to get challenging. They had to hit those breathtaking harmonies while keeping part of their minds on their instrumental cues. I get the impression they spent more time rehearsing this number than any other as their performance was flawless — easily the highlight of the evening.
"You Never Give Me Your Money" serves as the gateway into the frenetic medley of half-tunes brilliantly shoe-horned together by The Beatles and George Martin, like some music publisher's clearinghouse, and the Fabs navigated this minefield adeptly, building momentum toward the three-way guitar solo in "The End." It would have been perfect, too, if Adam Hasting's volume pedal wasn't pushed down, effectively silencing his first turn. But that's rock and roll. If everything was perfect, it all would have been less memorable in my opinion.
Overall, the evening was a triumph for the Fab Four and their team, but I'm pretty sure they're glad it's over.
Eric Sandberg: My true opinion on everything is that it's splunge.