More than 30 years after breaking up, The Beatles are omnipresent.
Their songs are in the elevator and in the grocery store, at the pub and at the beach, on the radio and on the soundtracks of mournful Wes Anderson movies (though performed by other artists, due to the surviving Beatles’ notorious reluctance to sign over song rights to filmmakers).
And at last semiofficial count, there were well over 350 Beatles tribute bands playing on any given weekend around the globe — and that doesn’t begin to scratch the number of acts covering one or only a handful of Beatles tunes. (When you get right down to it, who hasn’t?)
Like a magic broom chopped to matchsticks, the long disarticulated Fab Four have been resurrected as a zombie army.
Asheville alone has spawned two such combos — popular young band Yesterdays Tomorrow and the more age-appropriate, but now reportedly defunct, Faux Four. And we have lately played host to the Mersey Beat-steeped SpongeTones, who rocked the crowd at Downtown After Five three weeks back. The pinnacle of all this post-new-Beatlemania should be a performance by 1964 … The Tribute, which will take the stage at the Asheville Civic Center Arena Saturday, Sept. 11. (See accompanying sidebar.)
How did we reach this particular post-Fab juncture? I mean, there’s no obvious reason why The Rolling Stones or Cream or The Doors couldn’t have become the iconic band of the late 20th century.
No reason, that is, except that almost anywhere the muse led those other groups, someone else had been there first: The Beatles had already laid down tracks.
Can’t buy them love
On the home front, Yesterdays Tomorrow are the eager upstarts, no older than were The Quarry Men — that would be John, Paul and George in their 1957, pre-Ringo incarnation.
Culturally, Clay Blair, Michael Kinnear, Robin Zieber and Daniel Grant have little or nothing in common with the early Beatles — think upper-middle-class Biltmore Forest versus working-class Liverpool. And it isn’t immediately clear whether they really love the music or have simply found an especially nice car to drive. Because baby, they can.
Despite the Asheville band’s being set up with top-of-the-line instruments (including a stand-ful of vintage Hofner, Guild and Fender guitars) and matching Nehru jackets, a certain sense of ennui infects their efforts. When they sing, “Just give me money, that’s what I want,” there is an unshakable sense that the request isn’t really necessary.
Dutifully screaming girls at two recent YT shows — Bele Chere in midsummer and an Orange Peel gig in mid-August — lent a Beatles-esque atmosphere to the events. But the screams are endlessly solicited by front man/lead guitarist Blair, and lack the frenzied energy of the real thing.
Being for the benefit of bigger gigs
That said, the local foursome has been playing together less than a year, and has already netted a very respectable fish — a three-night stand at Liverpool’s legendary Cavern this November, based on a demo CD that Yesterdays Tomorrow recorded last spring.
And when they’re in top form, YT pretty much deserves the honor.
In a recent interview, though, Blair confessed to beginner’s jitters.
“Our first club date was at The Watershed [in Black Mountain], back in March, and we were scared,” he admits.
Backstage at their recent Orange Peel gig, drummer Grant’s dad, Andy, and Steve Haynes, a veteran British rocker, were full of last-minute advice. “Shake your heads. Smile.” Do this song, don’t do that one.
But whether it was too much pressure from the co-managers or just run-of-the-mill stage fright (or perhaps rhythm guitarist Zieber’s earlier-in-the-day soccer injury), the band’s affect that night was mostly flat. All the right words, many of the right licks, some of the right harmonies, but with all the effervescence of a soda left open overnight.
Still, their youth — at least for now — is largely serving them well.
“One reason they are catching on is that they are able to create a club atmosphere, just like The Beatles did,” says Haynes, who, having played at the Cavern himself, made YT’s connection with the famous club.
“The Cavern hired them over dozens — maybe hundreds — of Beatles bands, both because of their sound and because they are about the same age as The Beatles were when they first played there,” explains Haynes.
And at least band members haven’t let the Cavern coup go to their heads — they are, apparently, still doing their homework. It was encouraging, for instance, to spot Blair and Grant at The SpongeTones’ Aug. 20 show at Pack Square.
A locally legendary Charlotte band wielding 25 years of stage time and confidence, The SpongeTones make no pretense of Beatledom; they just play the music. With dead-on harmonies, effortless guitar leads and a palpable sense of exuberance, they blow any Beatles tribute band in this writer’s experience completely off the charts.
Playing everything from the most- to least-covered of the Fab Four’s back catalogue, as well as killer renditions of Kinks, Traveling Wilburys, Cream, Dylan and Rolling Stones tunes, plus their own well-honed originals, the Tones fairly scream: This is the way it should be done!
Yesterdays Tomorrow is practicing hard, building their repertoire and tightening their sound in preparation for their UK debut. They will travel with a large entourage: Their families are all going to Liverpool with them, and at least two local fans — female UNCA students — are planning to join them there.
It is an auspicious if daunting start for a fledgling band. And their momentum doesn’t appear to be headed in the wrong direction anytime soon.
“The Cavern is already talking about bringing them back during Beatles Week next year, when all the Beatles cover bands will be there,” Haynes reveals.
Tomorrow never knows
Yesterdays Tomorrow will also play at a fund-raising gala at Diana Wortham Theatre Oct. 29, cosponsored by Sir Paul McCartney’s Garland Appeal USA, a breast-cancer-research foundation that the ex-Beatle founded in memory of his late wife, Linda, who died of the disease.