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.