At least the rain came during "Lucy in the Sky."
Abbey Road Live was slated to perform Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in its entirety in honor of the 40th anniversary of that bellwether album's release on June 1, 1967.
But first the Athens band treated us to a set of tunes that weren't on Sgt. Pepper. I was damned glad to be there for what would be a transcendental experience. The Beatles can do that to you.
Abbey Road Live opened up with the sound of jet engines signaling "Back in the USSR," the perfect opening song. I was back in seventh grade again, trying to learn to play "Revolution" on an acoustic guitar and hoping the Beatles would quit suing each other and get back together. (How much money did Apple Records lose or have stolen? Tens of millions of dollars?)
Then they went into "Something," and they just nailed it: Absolutely wonderful harmonies meet meticulous attention to musical detail. When the crowd sang along, you'd swear a chorus of angels was singing.
Bassist Dave Domizi sings a lot like Paul McCartney, and guitarist Tim Conley has the John Lennon tone down. Michael Wegner plays keyboards, guitar and clarinet, and sings like a bird as well. They've been playing Beatles tunes live for years, and it shows. They wore some flamboyant clothing, but didn't try to look exactly like each Beatle; they concentrated on the sound.
When it came time for "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da," the band was joined by the Magical Mystery Horns. But the horns really shone in "Strawberry Fields." That was the best live rendition of "Strawberry Fields" that I've ever heard. Just shake-your-head unbelievable. They had it down to a science, with Michael breaking out the clarinet for that weird ending part.
"Penny Lane" and "Revolution" drew applause aplenty. But the high point of the night, for me, was "Dear Prudence." Again, just unbelievable. The band members used their voices like instruments, creating this incredibly lush tapestry of sound. I think everyone in the crowd over 40 was singing along with "Won't you come out and play?"
Then the band took a break and came back to play Sgt. Pepper, joined by the Lonely Heart Strings. They pulled out all the stops for that title song. I could almost imagine the impact that song would have had in 1967 - punchy and hard-rocking, but still psychedelic and nonsensical. No wonder the "squares" were freaked out by the cheeky Liverpudlians.
"With a Little Help From My Friends" had the crowd singing along again. But when they launched into "Lucy in the Sky," Tim broke a string and the rain started - a sprinkle at first, then a torrent. That was that.
Still, we had more than an hour of great Beatles tunes, free of charge. Thanks, Woodstock. I'll say nice things about you.
The rained-out ending was almost fitting, in a sense. We can't go back in time, and there will never be a Beatles reunion. I'm still mad at Paul (and Yoko, to a lesser extent) for breaking up the band. The Irish can hate forever, as my dad says.
But if you get a chance to see Abbey Road Live, do it. It's just like seeing a Beatles concert, without Yoko and Linda sniping at each other backstage.