“Todd Rundgren produced this record for Badfinger, didn’t ya, Todd?” said Badfinger member Joey Molland before singing that band’s “Baby Blue” (see video below) at the Wellmont Theater in Montclair, March 1. I wasn’t previously aware that Rundgren had co-produced Badfinger’s 1971 Straight Up album, which contained “Baby Blue,” but there you go. You learn new things all the time.
The show, titled “It Was 50 Years Ago,” was a tribute to The Beatles, featuring songs from the Revolver and Rubber Soul albums, as well as the participants’ own hits. And it was unusual for a Beatles tribute show in that three of the co-stars have direct ties to The Beatles themselves. Denny Laine was a key member of Paul McCartney’s Wings from 1971 to 1981. Rundgren has been featured in three editions of Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band. And Badfinger was the first band signed to The Beatles’ Apple Records in the ’60s.
It probably would have been a perfectly entertaining evening if these three had just told stories about working with The Beatles. But there was actually little talking in this show, as they — plus Christopher Cross and former Chicago bassist and singer Jason Scheff — had a lot of ground to cover. Counting all songs in the different editions of Revolver and Rubber Soul (in each case, there was one for North America, and one for the rest of the world), there are 30 of them, and this show included 24. Plus, each of the five co-headliners got to play two songs from their own careers.
They played in various combinations, adding backing vocals and guitar to various numbers but also going offstage at times. There were a few minor missteps, but given that this was the first show of the tour, that wasn’t surprising. In general, high spirits and sharp musicianship prevailed — as you would expect with old pros like these, given the opportunity to play songs from two landmark albums.
Scheff was onstage the most, because his bass was required for every Beatles song except “Eleanor Rigby.” (He also switched to keyboards for the Chicago song “Hard to Say I’m Sorry”). Four musicians — drummer Prairie Prince, keyboardist Gil Assayas, guitarist Wayne Avers and multi-instrumentalist Darin Murphy — provided backing throughout the evening, with Assayas adding a lot of the string and horn sounds via synthesizer.
Laine’s “Band on the Run” was the first song of the evening to really ignite the crowd. Molland also provided some early highlights with his pair of buoyant Badfinger songs, “No Matter What” and “Baby Blue.” The dense, explosive “She Said She Said,” sung by Rundgren, was a good choice to end the first set.
Cross showed his versatility in the second set, moving easily from the sweetness of “Michelle” to the sour scorn of “I’m Looking Through You.” On his soft-rock classic, “Hello It’s Me,” Rundgren roamed around the stage and got the crowd to sing along.
Scheff’s “25 or 6 to 4” was a hard-rocking crowd-pleaser; he wasn’t in Chicago when they first recorded it, of course, but did sing lead on the band’s 1986 re-recording. With its big sound (anchored by Prince’s thunderous drumming), “Tomorrow Never Knows” (see video below), which closed the second set, mirrored “She Said She Said” in the first set.
“The Word” might be seen as a bit of an odd choice for the show’s lone encore. There are many more well known songs on Revolver and Rubber Soul, of course. But its all-you-need-is-love theme was probably seen as being an important message to leave the audience with, at this particular time.
The It Was 50 Years Ago Today Tour also comes to Sound Waves at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, March 5 ; and the Count Basie Center for the Arts in Red Bank, March 7 (UPDATE: Red Bank show has been postponed to June 20.)
Here is the March 1 setlist, including the lead singer or singers. Songs in bold are from Revolver or Rubber Soul.
“Drive My Car” (Cross, Rundgren)
“I Want to Tell You” (Laine)
“Eleanor Rigby” (Cross)
“If I Needed Someone” (Molland)
“Band on the Run” (Laine, Cross)
“Go Now” (Laine)
“I’m Only Sleeping” (Scheff)
“No Matter What” (Molland)
“Baby Blue” (Molland)
“Good Day Sunshine” (Scheff)
“In My Life” (Rundgren)
“You Won’t See Me” (Scheff)
“Ride Like the Wind” (Cross)
“Here, There and Everywhere” (Cross)
“She Said She Said” (Rundgren)
“Yellow Submarine” (Molland, Cross)
“I’ve Just Seen a Face” (Cross)
“Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” (Laine)
“I’m Looking Through You (Cross)
“I Saw the Light” (Rundgren)
“Hello It’s Me” (Rundgren)
“Hard to Say I’m Sorry” (Scheff)
“25 or 6 to 4” (Scheff)
“And Your Bird Can Sing” (Rundgren)
“For No One” (Cross)
“Nowhere Man” (Laine)
“Doctor Robert” (Molland)
“Got to Get You Into My Life” (Scheff, Murphy)
“Tomorrow Never Knows” (Rundgren)
“The Word” (Molland, Cross, Rundgren)
Rubber Soul songs not performed: “Think for Yourself,” “What Goes On,” “Wait,” “Run for Your Life,” “It’s Only Love.”
Revolver song not performed: “Love You To.”
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