Beatlemania Rains down on Austin
It’s likely the only rain you’ll see in Austin in the coming weeks is on stage at the Long Center for the Performing Arts. No, I’m not talking about a burst pipe. I’m alluding to your chance to see Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Ringo Starr and George Harrison giving a full-length concert in Broadway’s ‘Rain – A Tribute to The Beatles’. There are three acts I’m sorry I never got to see before they died or broke up…Elvis, Frank Sinatra and The Beatles. I can’t imagine anyone coming close to their showmanship, originality and the sheer impact they had on music.
So, though, like most of you, I never got to see The Beatles, I’m excited to see the next best thing when the touring Broadway show comes to the Long Center this coming week (Sept 20-25th). This is not your typical Broadway show. The guys that play the fab four are all accomplished musicians (doing their own live singing and playing) who have spent countless hours breaking down The Beatles' music, learning the nuances of the iconic men they play and perfecting a well produced show that makes audiences feel like they are back in the ‘60s during a rock n’ roll revolution.
Rain isn’t just a show, it’s also the name of the band that has been around longer than The Beatles themselves. Originally called ‘Reign’, the band was started in the 1970s by founding member and now Manager Mark Lewis and was at first a southern California bar band. The band became known for its Beatles covers, and while the members wanted to make their own music, covering Beatles songs a few days a week or a few sets a show helped pay the bills. The original members, with the exception of Lewis, eventually went on to do other things, but Lewis kept the band going and added the current members (in 1983 and 1998), who take pride in playing Beatles music, note for note.
The show covers the career of The Beatles, with the band members inspiring grown women to scream like they did back in the ‘60s, with popular songs including ‘Hey Jude’, ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ and ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’. This group has also mastered lesser-known songs The Beatles recorded but never performed for audiences.
I asked the man who emulates John Lennon in Rain, Steve Landes, about what the role means to him, how he prepared for it and why he thinks the biggest band in music history means so much to so many. Landes has been with the band since 1998 and has also backed up ‘60s artists including Tiny Tim and Peter Noone (of Herman’s Hermits). I’ve never heard it better said as to why the Beatles made such a huge impact on music.
CultureMap: Describe what it is like to play a member of one of the most influential bands of all time?
Landes: It’s a dream come true. This is something I wanted to do for a long time, and I’m having such a good time doing it. It can be quite daunting to step into those shoes, so to speak. John Lennon has got to be one of the most iconic figures in Rock and Roll, and one of the most loved. So yeah, that’s a lot to take on, but his fans are just so good, and love him so much, that it helps to get across who he was, and what he means to people, onstage every night. It also helps that my band mates are all so great at re-creating the other Beatles! It really is like The Beatles come to life onstage at our show!
CM: What sort of preparation went into playing this role? How did you learn some of the nuances of John Lennon? The music?
L: Of course, being a fan first helped. I love The Beatles, and John’s music and message. So I of course was very familiar with him and the songs going in. I have in my collection over 200 books, and 100 DVDs on John and The Beatles. So the research on who he was, why he did the things he did, how he moved and acted onstage, was all there. From there, it was just a matter of truly delving into the music, listening to it over and over again, picking apart all of the various parts; who’s playing what, chord inversions, even little mistakes here and there. It all goes into the big picture of making the music sound like it does. It’s got to be exact, or it won’t sound right. It’s almost a subliminal thing; the audience may not know exactly what wasn’t quite like the record, but they can pick up on the sense that something wasn’t a hundred percent. And we want it to be a hundred percent.
“...at the heart of it, and the reason not only that they were successful, but why they mean so much to so many people even today, is the music.”
CM: How has playing John Lennon increased your understanding of him and what made him such an iconic figure, writer and musician?
L: From being onstage and embodying this iconic character for a while now, I’ve been able to see John Lennon in a different way than most of his fans see him. I’ve had the good fortune of playing on many of the same stages he did with The Beatles, meeting a few people he knew at times throughout his life. I think seeing him through the eyes of a musician, I see how he was someone who used his music as a form of communication. I can see what his music meant to him, and how badly he wanted it to mean something, to be able to speak to the world, to resonate with people that needed that, to just open up a dialogue. And I think he certainly succeeded in that, and continues to do so.
CM: How do crowds react to the show?
L: We’ve been very fortunate in that, no matter where we go, the audiences just really love the show. So many of them show up in their Beatles T-shirts, sing along to all of the songs, stand up and dance in the aisles, that it becomes a real interactive celebration of this band that everyone in the audience, (and on the stage), loves so much. It’s a fun atmosphere at our show, a concert feeling, but also kind of almost like a Beatles convention or something; somewhere that people who need an outlet to express their emotions for The Beatles, and their music, can go and do that with a couple thousand other like-minded people. And of course, the message in the music is a positive one of Peace & Love, so people always leave the show in a good mood.
“Good music is good music, no matter when it was created, and will always find an audience.”
CM: What is the most memorable incident involving an audience or an audience member?
L: We have a regular group of fans that follow us around. They call themselves the ‘Raindrops’. Nice sweet people of all ages that come to as many shows around the country as they can. And they’ve made Beatles costumes for themselves, and come to our shows dressed up! Sgt. Pepper suits, black suits and ties, Shea Stadium jackets, you name it! They hold up signs, sing along, and they get the rest of the crowd going, get them really engaged in our show, which of course is good for everyone. Plus, it’s fun to be on stage watching them. It gives us a show!
CM: What do you think it was about the Beatles that made them so successful?
L: Magic. Lightning in a bottle. The right guys at the right time. Their charm, their humor, their style. All of it was just perfect, just the right thing to take them where they needed to go to be so successful. But at the heart of it, and the reason not only that they were successful, but why they mean so much to so many people even today, is the music. The songs they wrote, and the band’s sound on record, was so different, and yet so timeless, that it resonates with people, no matter whether they were around in the Sixties to witness ‘Beatlemania’ first-hand, or they just stumbled upon their music yesterday. Good music is good music, no matter when it was created, and will always find an audience. And the music they created was the best.
You can hear that music in ‘Rain – A Tribute to the Beatles’ at the Long Center September 20th to 25th. Click here for more information on the show or for tickets.