MOST historians agree that The Beatles’ 1968 self-titled opus, better known as The White Album, marked the beginning of the end for the Fab Four.
Ringo Starr temporarily quit during its recording and many of the 30 tracks were recorded without all four members together in the studio. It explains why it’s the most idiosyncratic edition of The Beatles incredible musical library.
There’s no greater example of the different creative personalities that competed within Liverpool’s favourite export.
The ability of Chris Cheney (The Living End), Phil Jamieson (Grinspoon), Tim Rogers (You Am I) and Josh Pyke to express their own constrasting personalities, while performing those Beatles songs, is the real beauty of The White Album Concert.
There’s Jamieson playing the cheeky schoolboy, Rogers being the madcap uncle, Cheney the cool guitar whiz and Pyke keeping things relatively straight.
The Australian foursome have reunited for the third time to mark the 50th anniversary of the The White Album, and on Tuesday night they brought the show to Newcastle for the first time.
It was no simple tribute show. There was no gaudy ’60s outfits or bad Liverpudlian accents, instead it was the opportunity for four acclaimed musicians, backed by a 17-piece rock orchestra, to celebrate their love for the legendary double album.
Much like Fab Four fans will debate tirelessly about who their favourite Beatle is, post-concert the packed Civic Theatre were likely discussing who stole the show.
For mine, it was Rogers. Of the four he best captured the sheer fun of the The Beatles. Whether he was hamming it up in a pig hat while signing George Harrison’s Piggies, wriggling on stage to Happiness Is A Warm Gun or referencing John Lennon by asking the crowd to “show your appreciation by rattling your light rail tickets,” Rogers had the audience smiling.
With a wild grey beard Rogers looked older than 48, and vocally he was the weakest of the four. However, the Berlin Chair songwriter more than compensated through boundless energy and charisma.
Jamieson took time to warm up, but after the intermission he exploded with an intense rendition of Yer Blues and then reveled in the cheekiness of Sexy Sadie.
Pyke at times appeared lost next to the more charismatic Rogers and Jamieson, but on the quieter moments his folk-flavoured voice shined. Despite a false start, Lennon’s haunting ballad for his mother, Julia, was beautiful and Pyke impressed again on Harrison’s Long, Long, Long.
For many Beatles fans the crowning moment of The White Album was Harrison’s While My Guitar Gently Weeps, which featured a soaring Eric Clapton guitar solo.
Cheney’s vocal might have failed to match the melancholy of Harrison, but his guitar solo took the song to a higher plane. More Jimi Hendrix than Clapton, but it was electrifying and attracted the biggest ovation of any song.
Later Cheney delivered the raucous Helter Skelter, complete with tossing his orange Gretsch into the air.
In the encore the quartet returned to the stage initially alone armed with acoustic guitars to perform stripped-down versions of Two Of Us, Across The Universe and The Ballad Of John & Yoko.
It was perhaps the most tender and touching moment of the night as the four smiled and enjoyed their obvious affection for The Beatles together.
The rock orchestra then returned for Harrison’s solo song All Things Must Pass and Revolution, which finally got the audience out of their cushioned seats and dancing.
Half a century later it’s testament to The White Album that it sounds as relevant as ever with it’s bizarre gumbo of rock, blues, country, avant-garde, ragtime, folk and experimental sound collages.
And it’s also testament to Cheney, Jamieson, Rogers and Pyke that they embodied the pure fun of The Beatles.