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.