A half century or so later…a White Album with heart, in Morristown

From left, Joey Molland, Micky Dolenz, Jason Scheff and Todd Rundgren at White Album tribute, MPAC, Oct. 13, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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The Beatles never performed the White Album live. They barely were on speaking terms when they recorded the double LP in 1968. Tension ran so high that Ringo quit for awhile. Their longtime studio engineer left in disgust. George brought in Eric Clapton for a song…just to make everyone play nice.

The result was more like four solo records than a group effort.

But what if John, Paul, George and Ringo had become Fab again? If they had taken this show on the road…how might that have sounded?

One hopes, like Sunday night at Morristown’s Mayo Performing Arts Center.

It Was Fifty Years Ago Today, A Tribute to the Beatles White Album was a rocking, rollicking, I-would-like-you-to-dance celebration, fronted by five seasoned pros who honored the songs while injecting life and humor.

Slideshow photos by Kevin Coughlin. Click/hover on images for captions.

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Todd Rundgren at White Album tribute, MPAC, Oct. 13, 2019. Photo by Ke

Three tour members boast solid Beatles résumés. Todd Rundgren took George Harrison’s handoff in 1971 and produced Badfinger’s Straight Up album for Apple; decades later, he joined Ringo’s All Starr Band.

Liverpudlian Joey Molland, from Badfinger’s short-lived glory days, backed George and John on solo records.

Micky Dolenz of Monkees fame visited the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper sessions, and ran with John and Ringo in Los Angeles during John’s post-Fab “lost weekend.”

Christopher Cross (Sailing, Arthur’s Theme) and Jason Scheff (successor to Chicago lead singer Peter Cetera) were popular in the 1980s. They seemed like odd picks for this project.

From left, Christopher Cross and Joey Molland at White Album tribute, MPAC, Oct. 13, 2019. Photo by Ke

As it turned out, Cross and Scheff were ideal. They traded high harmonies all evening, with Scheff packing extra punch on bass guitar.

The pair were sublime during an acoustic set that opened the second half. Strumming an acoustic guitar, Cross sang sweetly on Blackbird, I Will and Mother Nature’s Son. Scheff shined on Julia.

EVERYBODY’S GOT SOMETHING TO HIDE EXCEPT FOR ME AND MY…MONKEE? Todd Rundgren, left, with Micky Dolenz, at White Album tribute, MPAC, Oct. 13, 2019. Photo by Ke

Photographing the start of the show was a challenge: Standing still proved nearly impossible as Rundgren & Friends roared off the tarmac with Back in the USSR.

The packed house knew this would be a fun night when Dolenz strode onstage as the punchline to Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey Monkee.

Dolenz, the band’s elder statesman at 74, hammed up Rocky Raccoon, Why Don’t We Do It In the Road and Happiness is a Warm Gun.

Not to be outdone, Rundgren sandwiched campy send-ups of Hey Bungalow Bill (pith helmet, water cannon) and Sexy Sadie (pajamas, flower petals) between scorching leads on While My Guitar Gently Weeps and Birthday.

Molland delivered straight up foot-stompers with Savoy Truffle and Revolution No. 1.

Jason Scheff at White Album tribute, MPAC, Oct. 13, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Anchoring the affair were Joey Curatolo, musical director of RAIN, A Tribute to the Beatles; Gil Assayas, keyboard player from Rundgren’s 2018 Utopia tour; Dolenz guitarist Wayne Avers; and drummer Darin Murphy, who played John in the Broadway play Lennon.

Sunday’s headliners sang and played in different combinations, coming and going throughout the concert–a bit like the Beatles in the studio in 1968.

A key difference: When these guys reunited onstage for full-band numbers, they appeared to enjoy each other’s company.

Christopher Cross at White Album tribute, MPAC, Oct. 13, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

The players primed the pump with solo hits in the first half. Each man got a standing ovation. Dolenz mined the Monkees catalog for I’m a Believer–with longtime Beach Boys sideman Jeff Foskett backing him on guitar–and then he strapped on a guitar for Pleasant Valley Sunday.

Molland followed with Badfinger hits Baby Blue, getting harmonies from Rundgren, and No Matter What, backed by Scheff, the baby of the band at 57. Scheff then launched into Chicago’s Hard to Say I’m Sorry and a sizzling 25 or 6 to 4.

Rundgren served up I Saw the Light and Hello It’s Me, with sing-along choruses. Cross cleaned up with Sailing and Ride Like the Wind.

When the applause subsided, Cross shared an observation.

“The Beatles had some good songs, too.”

Todd Rundgren at White Album tribute, MPAC, Oct. 13, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

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