The White Album

Author: Rory McCartney

The Canberra Theatre
Tuesday July 22

Officially entitled ‘The Beatles’ but universally known as The White Album, the double LP was recorded in a fragmented atmosphere (with many songs lacking the participation of all four Beatles). In 2009, 41 years after its release, four of Australia’s finest – You Am I’s Tim Rogers, Josh Pyke, Chris Cheney of The Living End and Grinspoon frontman Phil Jamieson – brought it back to life. Now they were back again to play the whole lot in track order.

The 17 piece backing setup was impressive, with brass, strings and two drum kits. The gear was picked to match the album cover too, with white baby grand and black and white drums. The show kicked off with a jet plane sample as Cheney let loose with ‘Back in the U.S.S.R.’, before Jamieson followed up with the gentler ‘Dear Prudence’. Jamieson, Cheney and Pyke joined forces for ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’ before Rogers made his first appearance in a truly shocking checked suit for ‘Wild Honey Pie’. He had no guitar to do windmills with, but did the next best thing with his tambourine. It was a bizarre feeling at first, seeing these legends in a kind of super karaoke. However, that feeling passed quickly as the four guys and their backing band were so into the songs and the fun of the event. With 30 songs in two sets to get through, there was no mucking about and a continual swapping over between singers, with occasional participation by all four at once.

Each of the stars brought his own style to the show. Jamieson, in dinner jacket and bow tie, camped it up in the first half, but came back full of attitude and high kicks after the interval. Pyke was the cool crooner, while Cheney was the guitar wielding straight rocker. Rogers played the rascal, becoming increasingly more disheveled as the night wore on, although he returned in the second half looking cool in tropical white. He was also the comedy relief and spokesman for the main players, with his most telling comment being that they were not there for nostalgia, they were there for the joy of the songs and delivering them with a lot of love.

Jamieson was the most mobile, wandering through the backing band, draping himself on them and, to the misgivings of the audience, overselected members of the crowd. He was super flexible, banging out the big notes in ‘Yer Blues’ and mincing about for ‘Honey Pie’ (it was a long way from Grinspoon’s ‘Dead Cat’). Cheney showed his stuff with the wailing, drawn out guitar solo in ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ and rocked out in ‘Helter Skelter’, playing a guitar laid flat on the floor before throwing it high for a catch. Rogers shone out with his extravagant, theatrical style, with a fake pistol (complete with ‘bang’ flag) against his head for ‘Happiness Is a Warm Gun’, then dancing around a plastic pig mask during ‘Piggies’. Pyke’s biggest moments were in ‘Julia’ and ‘Blackbird’; songs just made for his smooth vocals.

The backing band, led by musical director Rex Goh, flexed its muscles presenting the experimental instrumental ‘Revolution 9’, with its clouded vocal effects, before all four blokes returned. The encore served up ‘A Day in the Life’, from the ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ album and a reprise of ‘Revolution1’. At the end, a small boy went on stage to dance and sing along with the band. Boosted onto the piano by Jamieson, he was so good that it was hard to believe that it wasn’t a set-up. However, a gob smacked Rogers assured us of its genuine spontaneity.

The White Album Concert

Author: Chris Martin

Sydney Opera House
Sunday July 20

They may not quite be Australia’s Fab Four, but there’s plenty of star power in the air when Tim Rogers, Chris Cheney, Phil Jamieson and Josh Pyke get together. They’re touring (once again) their tribute to The Beatles’ self-titled 1968 release colloquially known as The White Album, and the Sydney Opera House has filled four times over for the occasion.

It’s a surprise, therefore, to witness a docile crowd welcoming Cheney with only muted applause for ‘Back In The U.S.S.R.’. There a few key songs that were always bound to define this project as a success or failure, and the McCartney penned opener is one of them. So is ‘Dear Prudence’, led by Jamieson, which despite the 18 musicians onstage for this rendition, gets nowhere near the shimmering magnificence of the original. And it takes two drummers to do what Ringo did by himself 46 years ago.

The first real wave of enthusiasm spreads across the Concert Hall for ‘Ob-La-Di,Ob-La-Da’ – as a song, it’s one of The Beatles’ worst kitschy crimes, but it’d be unfair to deny the fun that it creates for this audience. Cheney, Jamieson and Pyke share the stage for this one, before the self-appointed rock star of the group makes his arrival in Rogers.The You Am I frontman seems to insist that his hungover monologue is the one consistent presence that ties the whole show together, but frankly, his bravado act gets tiresome.

Not so Cheney’s, as ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ lifts much of the audience to its feet. As ever, some of The Beatles’ songs sit better in certain hands than others, and Cheney’s treatment of George Harrison’s tune (and Eric Clapton’s solo) is exultant. Pyke is a natural fit for the softer tracks – ‘Blackbird’ and ‘Mother Nature’s Son’ especially – while Jamieson seems happy to ham things up, so it’s fair enough that he gets ‘Don’t Pass Me By’.

By no means is The Beatles a flawless album – even the most popular group in musical history made its mistakes – but this all-Australian ensemble does a commendable job in reflecting the source material fairly. It’s just a shame that The Beatles never actually get a mention in all the self-congratulation that goes on here. Still, the Rogers/Cheney/Jamieson/Pyke group could do worse than tour Rubber Soul or Abbey Road, perhaps – because if all those songs haven’t yet grown dated, they won’t anytime soon.

The White Album Concert

Author: Annelise Ball

Hamer Hall
15 Jul

Well dressed baby boomers dominate the crowd gathering in Hamer Hall’s multi-level foyers. The White Album Concert brings The Beatles’ seminal double album back to life 44 years post-release thanks to the talents of Tim Rogers, Chris Cheney, Phil Jamieson and Josh Pyke. Cheney’s punk-rock credentials blast the set open with Back In The U.S.S.R. and Glass Onion while Jamieson charms wearing a big bow tie and singing the wistful Dear Prudence. All take part in the crazy Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, with Pyke giving Cheney a blokey, footy-style tap on the bum before walking off once the job is done.

Rogers takes on the early run of wacky, acid-trip tracks dressed in a fetching tweed suit. The timeless While My Guitar Gently Weeps then shifts the tone to moving, all-encompassing intensity. Cheney fills in admirably for Eric Clapton for the compelling lead guitar solo and receives a massive response from the crowd. Pyke successfully maintains total coolness while singing the twee Martha My Dear, but perhaps shows his true feelings when tossing away the tambourine as he walks off. He later recovers by nailing the fingerpicking acoustic beauty of Blackbird.

Helter Skelter is an early highlight from the second side, with two wailing guitarists, double drum kits and Cheney’s ripping guitar solo making huge amounts of awesome noise. Later, Cheney almost misses the start of Savoy Truffle but redeems himself by chucking Cadbury Favourites into the crowd. Two drummers keep perfect time as they bash their kits in mirror image during this rhythmic track. Avant-garde shit gets real with Revolution 9 – a track so trippy and multi-layered that musical director Rex Goh steps up to conduct. Gorgeous lullaby Good Night, greatly improved by the merciful absence of Ringo Starr’s vocals, sees all four artists on stage together to bid us farewell. Rogers whispers, “Goodnight,” and then, “let’s go fuck shit up” – a suggestion that’s probably not often heard on the Hamer Hall stage.

A Day In The Life, an imposter track from Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, lets the rock orchestra loose with its signature instrumental rise to the top of the scales while triumphant octaves crash below. Random punters are hauled up on stage to join the fun during Revolution 1, forcing Jamieson to defend himself against an enthusiastic older lady who tries to pinch his mic. The White Album Concert is definitely the best aural acid trip through the swinging ‘60s you can score.

Back In White

Author: Unknown

We get Josh Pyke, Chris Cheney, Tim Rogers and Phil Jamieson to tell us about the return of the White Album tour.

Josh Pyke
Which track on the White Album do you think you could listen to indefinitely and why?
I think Revolution Number 9 has enough crazy sounds in there to occupy the mind for eternity. It might be an uncomfortable experience, but it wouldn’t get boring.

Choose one: John, Paul, George or Ringo. Why?
I read once that when Paul was asked “What is it like being the best songwriter in the world?” he replied, “I don’t know, ask Neil Finn.” That’s a nice thing to say… I’ve also read he’s a ruthless business man, and was frustratingly perfectionist. He was also the “cute” one. So I dunno, I think on balance there’s enough going on there that even without the amazing songs he wrote to make him my favourite.

Finish this sentence: We’re bigger than…
The Big Merino in Goulburn. 

What’s something special you’ll be singing on the night?
Playing Blackbird is pretty special for me… An honour, also quite scary.

The 50th anniversary of The Beatles visiting Australia is currently being celebrated: do you think your music will be remembered in 50 years? 
I can almost guarantee that at least two people will. But beyond that I have no idea!

Chris Cheney
Which track on the White Album do you think you could listen to indef initely and why?
Goodnight. Because it makes me smile but I feel sad when I hear it. Not many songs can do that.

Choose one: John, Paul, George or Ringo. Why? 
George. He was effortlessly cool. What pressure to compete with John and Paul’s songs but he absolutely stepped up to the plate.

Finish this sentence: We’re bigger than…
The hangover that I suffered after the final show of the White Album tour five years ago?

What’s something special you’ll be singing on the night?
Glass Onion. How kooky was John Lennon? The guy was nuts.

The 50th anniversary of The Beatles visiting Australia is currently being celebrated: do you think your music will be remembered in 50 years? 
Perhaps by a select few!

Phil Jamieson
Which track on the White Album do you think you could listen to indefinitely and why?
Tricky question this one. I am unsure if I could actually could pick one song to listen to indefinitely unfortunately. If I am allowed to pick five? Happiness Is A Warm Gun, Honey Pie, Piggies, Blackbird, I’m So Tired… not necessarily in this particular order. The thing I love about the White Album is its variety, so choosing just one song takes away the magic somewhat for me.

Choose one: John, Paul, George or Ringo. Why?
There is a lot of choosing one thing in this questionnaire? I’ll go with Ringo. Why? It seems the right thing to do.

Finish this sentence: We’re bigger than…
The dining table. Well, my dining table that is. If you combined us all… the four of us? Tim, Chris, Josh and I? Or the whole touring band??? The touring band is probably bigger than a bus. Perhaps not as tall. It kind of depends. Are you stacking us on top of each other?

What’s something special you’ll be singing on the night?
Don’t Pass Me By. It was written by Ringo. It went to #1 in Denmark so it’s probably more special for the Danes but it’s an oddity on the White Album and that’s why I think it’s special.

The 50th anniversary of The Beatles visiting Australia is currently being celebrated: do you think your music will be remembered in 50 years?
If DCx3 isn’t being covered in 100 years I’ll eat my hat.

Tim Rogers
Which track on the White Album do you think you could listen to indefinitely and why?
Savoy Truffle. Was my favourite as a kid and I never knew why. And I still don’t. Lick the mystery.

Choose one: John, Paul, George or Ringo. Why?
Stuart Sutcliffe. For his cheekbones and early quiff.

Finish this sentence: We’re bigger than…
The illicit dreams in your noggin.

What’s something special you’ll be singing on the night?
Serenading Philip to sleep each night.

The 50th anniversary of The Beatles visiting Australia is currently being celebrated: do you think your music will be remembered in 50 years? 
I’d prefer to be remembered for my “unique” looks.