ENLARGE Photo credit: Joan Marcus “Sgt. Pepper” era, Joe Bithorn (George Harrison)
SAN DIEGO — In the aftermath of their first Ed Sullivan appearance in 1964, the Beatles grew into a multimedia phenomenon too popular to tour.
They continually evolved their music and lyrics, pioneered studio recordings into an art form, raised the rock genre into a potent forum for social and political expression; and inspired and influenced generations of musicians to follow.
Neither the Beatles nor their screaming fans guessed in their giddiest dreams the ultimate impact the band would have on music and pop culture.
Unsurprisingly, the eternal popularity of Beatles music has spawned plenty of Fab Four acts. However, unlike other bands, RAIN has built its own large and loyal following because of its ability to focus on the Beatles’ musical details, and deliver a perfect note-for-note live performance with no pre-recorded tapes or sequences.
“The body of work by the Beatles is timeless, and is the classical music of our time,” said Joe Bithorn, who plays George Harrison on stage. “For the most part, generations of the latter 20th century did not grow up with Mozart, Beethoven or Brahms. They grew up with the Beatles.”
“For many of us it was the soundtrack of our lives,” Bithorn said. “And [on stage] we try to remain as true to the characters as possible.”
This is perhaps why RAIN’s career has been twice as long as the Beatles’.
RAIN has managed to preserve the legacy of the immortal band’s recorded music on stage to wildly enthusiastic audiences, including the vast majority of older fans who never got to see the Beatles perform live, and fans who were not born yet when the Beatles hit America.
Stepping into George Harrison’s shoes
Bithorn has stepped into George Harrison’s shoes since 1983 in over 4,000 performances, and he does not intend to call it quits any time soon.
“As long as people want to go see [RAIN] that’s what I’ll do,” he said.
Given his dedicated emersion into Beatle-mania, it seems quite possible that when he is not working a Beatles’ song inevitably gets stuck in his head, but he chuckles at that prospect.
“When you do what we do there is so much [music] out there,” Bithorn said. “I listen to a lot of music. I am into jazz, classical, pop, blues and just about everything you can imagine. Once someone asked Duke Ellington, what kind of music he liked and he said ‘there are only two kinds: there’s good and bad’ – and that’s how it is.”
“George in particular to me was a great human being and great humanitarian,” Bithorn said. “His concert for Bangladesh [in August of ‘71] I think was one of the first rock-n-roll concerts whose purpose was to raise money for aid.”
The two-day event at New York’s Madison Square garden brought together a star-studded cast of musicians, including Ravi Shankar, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Leon Russell and Billy Preston. The goal: Alert the world to the plight of the Bangladeshi people.
With the lyrics “Now I’m asking all of you, help us save some lives,” George Harrison turned music in to a political and social force.
Harrison however, was the quiet Beatle, his talent overshadowed by Paul McCartney’s and John Lennon’s. Still his lyrical contributions are not to be dismissed. Among many other songs, he penned the soulful and beautiful melodies of “Something”, “Here Comes the Sun” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”
On stage, Bithorn performs only one of Harrison’s songs, but a better rendition of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is hard to come by.
“There are definitely other Harrison songs I wish were in the show. ‘Within You Without You’ [for example] is a tremendous piece of music highly influenced by Indian music. Unfortunately it is a tough one to perform live but it has a great message,” Bithorn said.
Harrison died in November 2001. He and Bithorn never met.
“I was in Lake Tahoe, probably at home when I got the news,” Bithorn said. “We all knew he was sick and the thing about those things is, well, that it is what happens. John though, that was a shock. He was still young.”
Surprisingly, neither Bithorn nor his band mates have met the two surviving members of the Beatles. The prospect of Bithorn and David Leon (John Lennon) one day taking the stage together with McCartney and Ringo Starr is sadly, unlikely.
“I have seen Paul and Ringo perform,” Bithorn said. “But I have not seen them in our audience. [Such a performance] would be very very cool, but I am sure with both of them still out there touring it would be difficult. It is optimistic of me to even believe it would happen.”
Below, fan captures Joe Bithorn of RAIN performing, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” at the Lodi Grape Festival in September of 2006.
The Beatles’ break-up, the Beatles’ fans and RAIN
Of the Beatles’ break-up Bithorn says only that it “was only between the four of them and their differences of opinion on who should manage the group.” In his opinion that is what it really came down to.
Bithorn also thinks that creatively, the Beatles were at the top of their game in their final years.
“The way the Beatles recorded in the studio, what they did with their music being such perfectionist, is tremendous. It’s the greatest thing ever,” Bithorn said. “And because of it, their music is going to stand the test of time.”
“I got era after era of Beatles’ songs that I like,” he said. “It is hard to pick just one, I could really pick several from each time period, but I will tell you that my favorite albums were the Rubber Soul, Sgt. Pepper and I really like the experimental stuff in the White album.”
For reasons that musical historians still debate, the Beatles’ had legions of hysterical fans that showed up at just about every Beatles’ event and concert. While Bithorn says that he and his band mates do not experience fandom at that level, events certainly have occurred in which one can draw parallels.
On Feb. 7, 2004 – 40 years to the exact minute (1:20 p.m. PST) when the Beatles arrived on American soil at New York’s JFK Airport – the members of RAIN walked off a Concorde jet at Seattle’s Boeing Field to over 7,000 screaming fans.
“A friend of ours, [who worked for Seattle’s oldies-rock station KBSG-FM] asked if we would do it and we figured it would be good media, but we assumed it would be a small thing,” Bithorn said. “It was surprising to see that many people. We filmed the event and actually use a small segment in our production now.”
RAIN rewarded the fans who braved a cold rain that day by performing all the songs from the Beatles’ three 1964 Ed Sullivan Show appearances.
One disc jockey explained: “We were thrilled when RAIN agreed to portray the Beatles. They not only perform the Beatles’ music flawlessly, but they also look like them, act like them, and talk like them! It is a historic portrayal [that] we will always remember.”
As anyone who has witnessed RAIN in concert will attest, the music is first and foremost, and is recreated with the utmost care and integrity. They spend their off time fine tuning musical notes and studying the Beatles’ musical catalog, to date RAIN has over 200 songs in their repertoire.
Unlike the Beatles, who typically played for 22 minutes singing in high keys, RAIN takes the stage for about two and a half hours, performing each song in its original keys.
“San Diegans can expect a real celebration of the Beatles’ music [at our show],” Bithorn said. “It is a great time. A real celebration.”
“RAIN: A Tribute to The Beatles” is a multimedia, multi-dimensional event with five scene and costume changes, three video screens and live camera projection, combining television commercials and historical video footage from the ’60s.
First set – 1964 Ed Sullivan Show
The set, combined with black and white camera work instantly takes you back in time to that historic first night that the Beatles appeared on American television. The band is dressed in the authentic Saville Row custom tailored suits, Beatle boots, and donning hairstyles to match the likenesses of John, Paul, George and Ringo.
Second set – Shea Stadium
After a brief interlude of songs from their movie era featuring selections from “A Hard Day’s Night”, the band is suddenly transported to Shea Stadium via helicopter where nearly 56,000 fans witness the group’s highest attended concert to date. Live video technology provides views of the band through closeups and different angles, as members of the audience are projected onto the main screens for a completely interactive experience.
Third set – Sgt. Pepper Era
The Beatles stopped touring after 1966 and never performed the music of Sgt. Pepper live … that is, until now. With the use of sophisticated sound and lighting, audiences will experience the music, energy and excitement of seeing the Beatles live in concert. Behind the band, a huge backdrop of the Sgt. Pepper album cover shows the band members cleverly interspersed as the Beatles, completely re-creating the famous album cover.
Fourth set – Flower Power
The set opens to the strains of Indian music where a brief description of the “Summer of Love” and the group’s newfound interest in meditation transports the audience back in time. The curtain opens to reveal the band attired in costumes reminiscent of the flower power era, as they perform the music of the years 1967-1968. Of special note, an acoustic set performance reveals to the audience what the Beatles’ actual song writing processes may have been like.
Fifth set – Abbey Road
A re-creation of the famous “Abbey Road” album cover provides the backdrop, while stage props such as the doorway to EMI studios add to the visual effects that accurately reflect this period. The transformation to this era is complete with yet another costume change, reflecting the style of the Beatles during 1969-70. The visual effect is such that you think the band has stepped out of the album cover. The music within this set includes selections from the “Golden Slumbers” medley through “The End” — the Beatles’ swan song of their short but magnificent career.
The San Diego Civic Theatre will host five performances of “RAIN: A Tribute to The Beatles” from Friday, May 14, through Sunday, May 16.
For additional information, including ticket information visit SDGLN’s Events Calendar.
Esther Rubio-Sheffrey is a Staff Writer for SDGLN. She can be reached at (877) 727-5446, x711 or at [email protected].