Come Together: A Beatles Tribute Documentary Review: Meet the Faux Beatles!

At this very moment, a Beatles tribute band is likely playing a concert somewhere throughout the world. Over 8,000 groups worldwide regularly recreate the music and, occasionally, the exact image and accents of the Beatles. Come Together: A Beatles Tribute Documentary examines these tribute bands, which range geographically and even in gender. Hosted by John Lennon’s half-sister Julia Baird, the film interviews several musicians who earn a living imitating their idols. While interesting, Come Together provides little insight as to the benefits and pitfalls of such a career.

Baird often appears in various locations throughout Liverpool, from the recreated Cavern Club to the grounds of St Peter’s Church (where Lennon first met Paul McCartney in 1957). In addition, much of the footage was shot during Liverpool’s annual International Beatleweek festival, where Beatles tribute bands throughout the world gather for an epic concert. Through interviews with members of groups such as American English, the Cavern Beat, the Fab Four, and 1964, the film explores the mannerisms and artistic elements of each Beatle. For example, George Harrison’s guitar playing encompasses a country sound, while Lennon was comical yet serious about his art. One musician cites McCartney and Ringo Starr as being the “most fluid movers” of the band. Emulating McCartney presented a particular challenge for one bassist: he had to learn how to play left-handed.

Come Together spotlights how the Beatles’ music translates to different cultures, as bands from Tokyo and Stockholm make appearances. The Tokyo tribute band had to learn the Beatles’ lyrics phonetically, as they cannot speak any English. Despite this limitation, the group’s performances in the film show how convincingly they replicate the Beatles’ material. Another group consists of all women, with one member explaining how they fight to be taken seriously as artists and Beatles imitators.

Further interviews reveal how many musicians hold jobs outside their profession. The film follows one artist at his second gig: baggage handling at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. Others reveal how seriously they take their chosen careers. An American English member explains how the group’s goal is “keeping the integrity of the band at a high level,” while other bands describe how diligently they rehearse and attend to every detail of their shows. They design the costumes, practice emulating their idols’ facial expressions, perfect Liverpudlian accents, and replicate the exact instruments used on the Beatles’ original recordings. One group even uses a string quartet during their concerts.

While these facts pique the viewers’ interest, Come Together does not provide a full picture of the life of a tribute artist. What is it like to forge a career out of emulating someone else’s work? Do these musicians ever desire their own identity rather than constantly embodying someone else’s character? What propels someone to choose such a relatively unconventional career? Delving deeper into the life of a Beatles tribute musician would have added dimension to the film.

Fans of Beatles tribute acts may find Come Together worth a look; at the very least, it may inspire a visit to Liverpool to see the significant Beatles sites. Perhaps one quote encapsulates the enduring appeal of groups such as American English. As the Las Vegas tribute band the Fab Four states, audiences can “grab . . . for a second, a feeling of hope.“ That sense of hope and nostalgia will surely keep the market for Beatles tribute bands strong for years to come.

Kit O'Toole

xRenowned Chicago-based writer and music journalist, Dr. Kit O’Toole, is the author of Songs We Were Singing: Guided Tours Through the Beatles’ Lesser-Known Tracks and Michael Jackson FAQ: All That's Left to Know About the King of Pop. In addition to her two books, O’Toole is also associate editor and a longtime contributor for Beatlefan magazine, reviewer and “Deep Beatles” columnist for Something Else Reviews, the “DeepSoul” columnist for Blinded by Sound, a frequent contributor to Cinema Sentries, and a regular speaker at The Fest for Beatles Fans in Chicago and New York and the Beatles at the Ridge festival in Walnut Ridge, AR. O’Toole has also presented at the GRAMMY Museum Mississippi, and written chapters for several academic collections. She is also the cohost of the biweekly show "Talk More Talk: A Solo Beatles Videocast." She holds a doctorate in Instructional Technology.

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