Marshall Crenshaw revisits his Beatlemania days and Rock NYC’s Iman Lababedi brings us this review
By Iman Lababedi
In 1978, Marshall Crenshaw played John Lennon to Glen Burtnik‘s Paul McCartney in the touring company of Beatlemania, 35 years later the two men were revisiting those days as the Incredible Simulators at BB King’s. And before you go on about how the last thing the world needs is another Beatles cover band just remember this: except for Cheap Trick we have never had someone of Crenshaw’s stature to step up to the plate. And also remember that Cheap Trick played psychedelic Beatles and the Incredible Simulators don’t touch psychedelia. Plus, with the exception of Cheap Trick and Will Lee’s The Fab Faux, the Incredible Simulators are the most consistently excellent Beatles cover band you will ever see.
By opening with “I’m Looking Through You” and following it with ” “Every Little Thing”, the band stake their own personal country Beatles till Crenshaw goes from acoustic to electric guitar for “A Hard Day’s Night“, then they tighten into a hard hitting pop band before two pieces of guitar rock take em to the encore.
At some point in the future, musicians will treat the Beatles canon the way theater directors treat Shakespeare, certain the songs can withstand radical reinterpretation, but neither the Incredible Simulators nor any one else is ready to do it yet. We get not versions and not imitations but covers of Beatle songs with most but not all of the limitations that implies. Early on Crenshaw performs a beautiful “Every Little Thing” that reminded me of his cover of “Rave On”, it connected his artistic dots, the bridge alone sounds like something you can imagine Crenshaw constructing, and his voice is so sweet, it was like having your soul uplifted thru love. He also, and I don’t know how except Marshall does it in his own songs, he connects to Lennons insecurities. For the encore he plays a “Please Please Me” that includes himself in the Beatles pride in the song.
I am writing as though you know Marshall, the “Someday Someway” singer who stands as one of the greatest pop song writers of all time whether you believe it or not. Glen Burtnik you might not know. He used to play with Styx and has written hits for John Waite and Patty Smyth, he currently leads a Beatles cover band Liverpool. And on Friday night he stole the set with an astounding vocal display on “Oh Darling”. McCartney doesn’t play this any more and it isn’t hard to guess why. On Abbey Road, Macca tore his throat to shreds here and turned what sounds like parody at first into a rock and roll moment to equal any the Beatles released. It is really tough to sing, it goes up so high, well out of McCartneys comfort zone and Glen goes all the way up with it. To get there, he really had to give in to it.
Otherwise, no complaints but nothing made my heart stop either. The harmonies sometimes sounded off, but sometimes sounded great. During “All My Loving” I watched Glen watching Crenshaw, and Glen careful placing his voice in sync with Marshal, like McCartney and Lennon in all that old film. Sometimes the guy performing Harrisons parts (didn’t catch his name… John Chapman maybe?) added his voice to the harmonies and even a brittle “Taxman” sounded very powerful and more than a little sinister. The three part harmonies on “If I Needed Someone” were the best of evening, while they don’t quite get it right, they still add the stoke to the song. Along with a fine replica of the solo on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, this was a moment to savor.
I haven’t mentioned Liberty Devito, Billy Joels drummer, because, well, he is playing Ringo and nobody wants to notice the strings on the puppets. Still, on set closer “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” the band owes the sink on the sludgy riff bellowing near the bottom of the mix to Devito.
The set list made some smart points, following “In My Life” (Mike Stein took the piano solo) with “Things We Said Today” said something about the passing of time the writers themselves didn’t really intend. And Crenshaw’s “I don’t really know how to play this one” before “Getting Better” suggests he was telling me the truth when he claimed that what he enjoyed about Beatlemania was playing the early ones. In a sense the Beatles canon is like the Harry Potter series or the Nabakov novels: it starts here, it ends there, and that is what there is, and when bands play it it is simultaneously all one song and also individual growth and changes, all within a span of seven years of recorded music. The Incredible Simulators played nothing off the White Album, one track off Sgt Pepper, two tracks off Abbey Road, one track off Revolver, nothing from Let It Be. As I said at the start, the Incredible SImulators are the Beatles as country rockers, the Beatles as the Byrds. The early to mid-period Beatles.
I’ve seen Marshall on stage many times, though not since May 2011. Often enough for me to assume he has a sullen side,. But perhaps the band format pleases him because this was the best natured I’ve ever seen the man. With his children Addie and Dean in the audience and mourning the loss of his father Howard H Crenshaw who died on on December 14th, perhaps the evening was its own reward. Its own form of joyfulness and release for him as it was for us. For sure, Marshall couldn’t simulate an emotion if his life depended on it, it is always heartful, real and true. Just like the Beatles.
I’m Looking Through You
Every Little Thing
Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby
I’m A Loser
And I Love Her
A Hard Day’s Night
If I Needed Someone
I Saw Her Standing There
I Call Your Name
You Can’t Do That
I Want To Tell You
There’s A Place
It’s Getting Better
Think For Yourself
Ticket To Ride
All My Loving
Drive My Car
In My Life
Things We Said Today
I Want You So (She’s So Heavy)
Please Please Me
(Iman Lababedi is editor at large for Rock NYC. For more in-depth reviews and other great coverage of the music scene in the Big Apple and beyond, visit Rock NYC Live and Recorded.)