1964's Beatles flashback group works hard to sound the same
'The music has stood the test of time,' the tribute group's John Lennon portrayer says.
FARGO — Mark Benson remembers his introduction to Beatlemania. It was Feb. 9, 1964, and he was one of 73 million people watching “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Unfortunately for Benson, it was a school night and his dad sent him to bed after the group’s first song, “All My Loving.”
Brief though the exposure was, like so many others, it left a mark. Twenty years later, Benson would found 1964: The Tribute, a staged recreation of The Fab Four during Beatlemania.
Fargo fans will get a chance to hear The Beatles' early hits when the show plays the Fargo Theatre this Friday night, Jan. 28.
“We wanted to show you what it was like if you were lucky enough to see The Beatles live,” says Benson, who plays John Lennon in the show.
He knew other tribute acts were using Beatles songs as their name, so Benson decided to focus on the first half of the group’s history, playing music through 1966’s “Revolver.”
“There’s such a wealth of material in those first seven records, just try to find a B-side. They’re all really good songs,” he says from his home in Akron, Ohio.
While Lennon and McCartney penned many classics, they also scored hits early on with covers. Benson says The Beatles helped give Black artists extra exposure by recording songs by Chuck Berry (“Rock and Roll Music” and “Roll Over Beethoven”), Smokey Robinson (“You Really Got a Hold on Me”) and The Marvelettes (“Please Mr. Postman”), among others.
There are some challenges to portraying a band with a particular accent, sound and style from more than 50 years ago.
“You try to play music in the style they played then. It's like an acting role as well as a musical role,” Benson says.
While vintage equipment can be bought to help achieve that sound, sometimes the biggest hurdle is staying in the same place.
“They were all in their early 20s and we’ve been playing longer than The Beatles had at that point. To try and imitate someone’s limited ability, you try to maintain that rawness,” he says.
While he’s been lead guitarist in a lot of his other cover bands, playing the Lennon parts relegates him to playing rhythm guitar.
“One of the most difficult things is when you’re an artist of any sort, you progress in a direction. We constantly record at least one show a weekend and listen back to make sure we don’t stray,” he says. “It’d be easy to play too much and then it doesn’t sound right. There were holes in their sound that need to be there. I can do more than this, but it doesn’t make it sound good.”
That’s 37 years of practicing at not getting better.
When Benson and Tom Work, who plays George Harrison, started 1964, they imagined playing a couple of times a month in the Akron area. Things took off and Benson and his Beatles have played Carnegie Hall 14 times.
“People can find songs they relate to,” Benson says of The Beatles' enduring legacy. “These things are like life moments to people and a new generation finds the same connection.”
He found his own connection long ago. While there are songs he’d like to play more often, finding room is hard with such a packed catalog.
“What amazingly cool song are you going to take out to put in another amazingly cool song?” he says. “You cannot play ‘Twist and Shout’ and ‘Hard Day’s Night.’”
The trick is finding the right pace, not playing too many slow songs in a row or too many John songs.
He’d like to play “Yes It Is” but that often gets cut for similarly slow songs, “This Boy,” “Michelle,” “If I Fell.”
“When you’re playing these songs that many times over the years, you think you’d get tired of it after a while, but I never get tired of the music,” he says. “The music has stood the test of time and it will.”
If you go
What: 1964: The Tribute
When: 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 28
Where: Fargo Theatre, 314 Broadway
Info: Tickets are $35, or $37.50 the day of the show, plus fees; jadepresents.com, Tickets300 box office or 866-300-8300