Directed by Steve Ison and John Scofield. No MPAA rating. 52 minutes.
It’s been kicking around for a few years, but the short and sweet documentary COME TOGETHER about Beatles tribute bands converging–coming together–for the annual Mathew Street Festival in Liverpool finally gets a Stateside release. It’s a light and fluffy look at the international phenomenon (there are reportedly upward of 8,000 Beatles tribute bands), but the film stands as proof that there’s always room for something else about the four Liverpool lads who changed the heart and soul of pop culture.
With on-camera narration by John Lennon’s younger sister, Julia Beard, who comes across a bit stiffly as part-historian, part-Liverpool tour guide, the film features quick glimpses of a number of bands that made the trek to play at the outdoor fest, both in performance and backstage, and of the throngs of adoring fans.
Among the bands donning the grey suits or the black suits or the Sgt. Pepper costumes, and playing the same makes and models of instruments as John-Paul-George-Ringo (different “Georges” give some love to Harrison’s sound on the Gretsch Country Gentleman and the Rickenbacker 12-string that he favored) are: The Fab Four (Las Vegas), The Mersey Beatles (Liverpool), Pepperland (Gothenburg), The Repeatles (Stockholm), 1964: The Tribute (Akron), The Aspreys (Tokyo), and the all-girl group The Beatelles (Liverpool). An added treat is an appearance by a fellow named Jerry Hobin, who does a credible impersonation of Ed Sullivan.
But the filmmakers and the musicians they interview make sure to point out that these bands aren’t simply imitating the Beatles. They’re paying homage to them. Some players talk of the frustration felt because of the stigma attached of being impersonators, while others proudly say that they make sure to include some of the rawness that was heard in early Beatles performances.
The challenge, says one of them, is to sound authentic. And most of them do, mostly on the instrumental side of things. Some come close vocally, but with the exception of a lovely a cappella section of “Because” by Pepperland, you’re not really going to mistake anyone here for The Beatles. Truth be told, a couple of them don’t even come close.
But everyone is into the spirit of it all. And everyone makes sure to fill their sets with the hits that everyone in the crowd knows. Though some go deeper. One group covers the rarely heard “The Word” from “Rubber Soul,” while another brings along a string quartet to accompany them on “Eleanor Rigby.” The Beatelles don’t worry about the fact that they’re females paying tribute to a male band. One of them even points out that “we add our own arrangements” to songs such as “I Dig a Pony” and “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey.”
The best moment is when members of the Mersey Beatles are seen casually brushing out, then donning their Beatle wigs. The best band is the non-English-speaking Aspreys (wait till you hear where they got their name), who learned all the lyrics phonetically, and whose drummer says, in Japanese, “I have a stiff neck from shaking my head like Ringo.”•••
Ed Symkus has been reviewing and writing about films since 1975. His favorite one is “And Now My Love.” The one he despises most is “Liquid Sky.” He lives in West Roxbury.