On Feb. 11, 1964 at 8:31 p.m., the Beatles took the stage at Washington Coliseum.
Fifty years later, they’re back on stage for “Yesterday and Today,” starting at the same exact time to recreate their first North American performance – well, kind of.
The Tuesday night concert, brought back by the D.C. Preservation League, featured Beatles’ cover band “Beatlemania Now,” who performed the same 12-song set the real band did half a century ago.
The stage was framed with huge, billowy silhouettes of the original Fab Four at the time of the first concert, fresh-faced and illuminated by light. While an obvious choice for decor, it created a slightly awkward contrast as the cover band walked out, clearly having at least 30 years on the Beatles’ images, a point not helped by harsh lighting and close-ups of their set projected on the screens next to them.
To be fair, though, the crowd has aged with them, too – the average crowd member couldn’t have been under 50, and as they begin their set, everyone stays seated.
The group begins on a rocky note – shuffling around lyrics to songs, repeating verses so the crowd is ahead of them in the sing-a-long. What starts off as a jovial rendition of the Beatles’ early cheesy love songs turns into a sloppy mess, as if your drunk uncle donned a wig and declared himself the entertainment for the night.
It probably doesn’t help that the band tries to “stay in character” to a fault. When Paul announces at the end of the 11th song that the next will be “the last of the night,” the audience murmurs in confusion and John has to clarify that it actually isn’t, in an awkward breaking of the fourth wall.
“I’m just trying to stick to the script,” Paul said.
From there, a 10-minute intermission is in place while they change costumes to reemerge in the iconic Sgt. Pepper’s getup, to play a selection from that album. It’s quite a jump ahead in Beatles discography, but the band seems to now be hitting their stride, and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” is their cleanest and most comfortable performance of the night.
All is well until they hit “A Day in the Life” – a song the Beatles themselves never performed onstage, and a sound created in the studio with a full orchestra. To solve this problem, Beatlemania Now’s three guitars and drumset play over a faint recording of the song in the background, like a sad karaoke rendition at an empty bar.
Though setting your standard at the Beatles is guaranteed to have you fall short, there’s more than just the rocky performance that made the night unsettling: Standing room tickets in the back cost $45, with seats sold at $100. If you’re going to be marketing prices that high, at least make sure your cover band knows the lyrics to its songs better than the audience.
Put simply, “Yesterday and Today” – both would’ve been good times to practice.