'It Was 40 Years Ago Today'
One of these names is not like the others: John, Paul, George, Ringo, Bo.
But Bo Bice, the 2005 "American Idol" runner-up trying to build a Southern-rock career, is among the artists in various stages of professional disrepair now performing in "It Was 40 Years Ago Today," a barnstorming . . . um . . . tribute to the album "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." The show hit Baltimore's Pier Six on Thursday, and comes to Wolf Trap tonight.
Half the Beatles aren't around to feel shamed by this troupe's existence. But Todd Rundgren, the most credible of the cast members by a far sight, had to be rolling over in his cot in the greenroom as Lou Gramm, the onetime lead throat of '70s hard-rockers Foreigner, butchered whatever immortal tune he took a shot at. During "Fixing a Hole," Gramm sang, "It really doesn't matter if I'm right I'm wrong," which along with being inaccurate (it's "if I'm wrong I'm right") and screwing up Lennon/McCartney's rhyming scheme and timing, was morally off: On nights like this, Lou, being right really does matter.
Gramm, alas, did remember lines such as "You're making me sing/For your sweet sweet thing," from his own "Hot Blooded," which for some reason he was allowed to also sing.
Rundgren's reverence for the Beatles runs deeply through his own music -- even if he did blast John Lennon as "a [blankin'] idiot" in a 1973 magazine interview. Of all the cast members (others include Denny Laine and Christopher Cross), Rundgren had the most fun, pounding out the opening power chords for the title track and putting a big foam flower on his head while singing "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds." Cross had his best moments hitting very high notes in a version of "She's Leaving Home" that sounded a lot like Radiohead.
Bice, to be fair, gave an adequate reading of "With a Little Help From My Friends." But were Simon Cowell to judge "It Was 40 Years Ago Today," he might point out that the Beatles and this album deserve better than adequate.
And, geez Louise, it was 41 years ago, anyway.
-- Dave McKenna
Dude, where's my era? Brit James Hunter was riding the blue-eyed soul train long before the Amy- and Jamie-come-latelys (Winehouse and Lidell) climbed aboard. The Artist Formerly Known as Howlin' Wilf has been trafficking in mid-'50s R&B since the mid-'80s. His blistering 30-minute set at Wolf Trap Thursday night -- opening for Chris Isaak, who was good enough to escape being upstaged -- was composed almost entirely of 21st-century Hunter originals that uncannily evoke the feeling of Otis Redding's or Jackie Wilson's songs without curdling into dopey mimicry (see Kravitz, Lenny) or boozy irony (Big Bad Voodoo Daddy). When Hunter covered "Baby, Don't Do It" by the Five Royales ("they invented soul music, so blame them"), the 1953 hit blended seamlessly with his own material.
Everyone has his own pastiche threshold, but Hunter's affable, energetic stage presence, coupled with the slinky majesty of his six-piece combo, seemed to charm any skeptics in the house into submission. (Not that Isaak's audience is gonna hate on a guy for doing solid work in a beloved, if no longer mainstream, idiom. But still.) "She's Got a Way" laid down the winning template: Staccato quacks of sax (in baritone and tenor flavors) joined Hunter's scratchy, supple vocals up front while the punchy tremolo of his guitar hovered with the keys in the middle distance, and the upright bass and drums brought the bounce.