After a short set by IU freshman Grace Minnick, the band took the stage for the first time Saturday night at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater as part of its U.S. debut tour, “Four Lads from Liverpool.”
It has been performing together as a Beatles tribute band since 1999.
Band member Steven Howard, as Paul McCartney, approached the microphone first.
“Are you ready to rock and roll tonight?” Howard said, met with shouts from the audience. He turned to drummer Brian Ambrose, as Ringo Starr, asking the same to him.
“He’s never ready,” Howard said with a smile as the other two members, David Howard as George Harrison and Mark Bloor as John Lennon, stood in formation. Each member was clad in the traditional black suit and skinny tie with black retro wigs to match the hairstyles of the original members of the Beatles.
As the Mersey Beatles began its set with “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” the Beatles’ first U.S. No. 1 hit, the audience swayed and bobbed their heads in their seats. Many mouthed the words originally performed by the rock legends themselves.
The band is making its way through the U.S. with special guest and author Julia Baird, sister of late Beatles member Lennon.
Before the show, at a meet-and-greet session for VIP ticketholders, she spoke about the Lennon she knew before Beatlemania.
“Well, in America, you think that John was born when he was 26,” she said. “He did have a whole life in England.”
She said the family never knew Lennon “had it,” or would grow to be as successful as he was until the Beatles came to America.
The first Christmas the Beatles were booming, Baird said, Lennon bought custom-made winter coats for her, her sister and their two cousins. They grew up in war-torn Liverpool, so every winter coat they had was handed down to them from older family members, she said.
As they were each given the chance to design their own, Baird said she chose to have hers made from black antelope with a red silk lining.
She said they each received a matching leather cap, similar to what Lennon would wear as an additional surprise.
Jackie Cloud, 64, sat at a table a distance away from Baird as she moved to interact with more of the VIP ticketholders.
Cloud identifies as a Lennon fan and sported a Lennon pin on her denim jacket and earrings made from guitar picks with his photo in black and white.
Her other Lennon paraphernalia was more permanent.
The tattoo on her right arm reads “Imagine,” wrapped around her wrist in elegant script and ending in a peace sign. She has another Lennon tattoo on her right ankle.
She even named her dog Winston, originally Lennon’s middle name before he changed it.
Cloud, said she remembered seeing the original Beatles perform in Indianapolis when she was 14 years old.
“Afterward, when my dad picked me up, I started crying,” she said. “I just knew instantly that they were going to change my life.”
Carol Retz, 66, also said she feels a strong connection to the Beatles and Lennon’s philosophy of peace. She celebrated her birthday in conjunction with Lennon’s 75th birthday celebration at Strawberry Field.
She said cover bands like the Mersey Beatles help to sustain fans’ connection to the original band and honor their music.
“Imitation is the biggest complement,” she said.
Between songs, Howard said the group was able to see Paul McCartney perform in Detroit, Michigan. He said it was an amazing experience for the group, except one time when he realized McCartney is left-handed.
“I’ve been playing righty all these years,” Howard said into his microphone. “The shock, the horror.”
While there are countless other Beatles tribute bands, Baird said the Mersey Beatles deliver the most honest and authentic tribute to the originals it can. She said the Beatles’ music persists because it was something so different that only it could have created.
Baird said she considers the Beatles to be like Beethoven, both with music that transcends the era in which it was composed. She said the Beatles’ songs are poetry put to music.
“The perseverance and the long-lasting effects of the Beatles are — I think it’s all about the music,” Baird said.
While a few scattered groups danced in the aisles during the set, Howard asked the entire audience to be on their feet for at least one song, “She Loves You.”
The crowd clapped to the beat.
“With a love like that, you know you should be glad,” many sang, in sync with the imitators on stage.