Fab Four to perform classic Beatles LP at Rio Theatren

SANTA CRUZ — There is a certain allure to Beatles tribute acts. The original band only performed live for a few short years before ceasing touring in 1966, and the deaths of John Lennon and George Harrison put a halt to any attempts at a full reunion. As a consequence, not many people today can say they saw the Beatles perform live, and even then, there is a large number of classic songs the band never got to play in concert.

In lieu of that, tribute bands such as Southern California’s The Fab Four have given audiences a chance to see some of their favorite Beatles songs from all eras performed live through pitch-perfect renditions played by a quartet that truly captures the spirit of all four of the band’s iconic members. They can be seen Sept. 15 at the Rio Theatre performing the landmark 1965 album “Rubber Soul” front to back plus other Beatles hits from their later period.

Ron McNeil, who portrays Lennon, said being in the band is a dream job.

“We love what we do,” he said. “We travel around and play the greatest music of all time.”

Naturally, McNeil has been a fan of the Beatles and ’60s music since childhood. At the age of 5, he used to run around the house singing the theme to “The Monkees,” starring the band famously inspired by the Beatles, and that gave way to listening to the Beatles themselves.

“I started ‘borrowing’ my older sisters’ records, and in there, they had the Monkees and the Beatles and Paul Revere & the Raiders,” he said. “I used to just listen to their albums, I don’t think I ever gave them back.”

When his father brought him a guitar, McNeil started playing music, and he even took up organ lessons. This eventually gave way to the formation of The Fab Four in 1997, initially performing in Southern California venues such as Music City in Fountain Valley and at Tomorrowland Terrace in Disneyland and then performing all over the world, including in Japan, Mexico, Brazil, Hong Kong, Australia, Germany and the Beatles’ native United Kingdom. They won an Emmy in 2013 for their PBS concert “The Fab Four: The Ultimate Tribute,” which was filmed at Pechanga Resort & Casino in Temecula and have even gotten to perform with members of some of the bands McNeil grew up with, including Mickey Dolenz from the Monkees and Mark Lindsay from the Raiders.

“We got to do a Monkees/Beatles/Raiders show, and that was fun,” he said. “We got to do different material.”

Despite eventually taking on the role of Lennon, McNeil said that Paul McCartney is his favorite Beatle. However, that part went to Ardy Sarraf, whom McNeil said had a closer voice to McCartney’s and also knew how to play left-handed bass, so McNeil decided to be Lennon.

“I have a little bit of the nose and a little bit of the voice for it,” he said. “It’s a great character to do. I get to sing a lot of leads and sing some great songs.”

To get into character, McNeil said the group always has Beatles songs playing backstage and he also listens to interviews with Lennon to get his speaking voice down.

“Singing is a little bit different than talking, but it helps if I get the talking first and his facial expressions,” he said. “We do a lot of drawing their faces onto our faces — the shadows and eyebrows and things — and that does help.”

The band performs songs from throughout the Beatles’ discography, as well as some tracks from the members’ solo careers. McNeil’s favorite songs to play include the Beatles’ cover of the Isley Brothers’ “Twist and Shout” and some of their more experimental late-period hits such as “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “A Day in the Life.”

“We’re one of the very few four-piece Beatles groups in the world that performs everything live on stage,” he said. “We don’t have any tapes, no backing tracks.”

McNeil also loves playing Lennon’s signature solo song “Imagine.”

“(It’s) John and Yoko’s message for peace in the world and to get people to see if they can put themselves aside … and try to live together as one,” he said. “It’s a beautiful song, and every night, I get chills singing it.”

McNeil has heard from audiences that the band does not perform enough songs from “Rubber Soul,” which saw the Beatles take a big leap forward in both songwriting and musical experimentation that would continue over the rest of their career, bringing in new instruments such as a sitar on “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” and a harpsichord on “In My Life.” Thus, the Fab Four will be performing the entire LP from “Drive My Car” to “Run for Your Life.”

“There’s a lot of great songs on there that, people are right, we don’t normally do,” he said. “There’s a lot of songs that are on there that are pretty iconic.”

Following an intermission, The Fab Four will perform their normal setlist, including a selection of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” cuts and later tracks such as “Hey Jude” and “Get Back.”

McNeil believes there are two primary reasons why the Beatles continue to resonate with audiences: One is the quality of the music, and the other is the universal themes of the lyrics.

“There were some political songs (like) ‘Revolution,’ but for the most part, they’re about love and relationships, and I think as long as people are in love and in relationships, I think the music will live on,” he said.

McNeil hopes the “Rubber Soul” performance will bring something new for both the band and the audience.

“It’s exciting for the guys,” he said. “They get to tackle some songs that are a little more difficult and some songs that we haven’t done in a while, and we hope the show is a little bit fresh for the audience too.”

The Fab Four will perform 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. Sept. 15 at the Rio Theatre, 1205 Soquel Ave. Doors open at 6:30. Tickets range from $34.50 to $64.50. For more information, go to RioTheatre.com.

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