Every once in a long while, the members of Yesterday and Today get a request they can’t bring themselves to play.
It’s not for lack of knowledge or enthusiasm. The six members of the Beatles cover band that’s set to hit the Lone Tree Arts Center this week have a working knowledge of the Fab Four’s entire catalogue. The group based out of Nebraska have mastered tunes off of early records like “A Hard Day’s Night,” the Beatles’ final songs on albums like “Abbey Road” and everything in between.
But the group has had to draw the line on rare occasions since they launched as an all-request cover band.
“‘Revolution 9’ on the White Album; people request that to be a smartass,” said Billy McGuigan, a founding member of Yesterday and Today, as well as its guitarist, keyboard player and vocalist. That tune, an eight-minute sound experiment on the Beatles’ 1968 album that features a droning voice repeating the words “number nine,” would hardly make for a crowd-pleasing musical experience. “There are probably a group of three or four songs that five people might like to hear out of an audience of 1,000.”
Refusing a request is a rare exception for this band. Playing the Beatles songs the crowd wants to hear is how this outfit distinguishes itself from bands like Rain and 1964, groups that don wigs and talk in Liverpudlian accents. Instead of the costumes and stagecraft, the members of Yesterday and Today opt for a more heartfelt approach.
Every show features the group playing requests from cards the audience turns in less than an hour before the show. Those forms include more than the mere name of a song. The band asks that audience members include anecdotes about memories and emotional attachments to the music.
“Without the audience, we don’t have anything,” McGuigan said from Miami during a phone interview. “Their requests are so great. It becomes more about the communal experience of the music.”
That highly personal approach to some of the 20th century’s best-loved pop music was a big driver when McGuigan and his two brothers kicked off the band in 2007. The McGuigans’ father started playing Beatles music for his sons as soon as they could talk. When he died in 1992 in his 40s, the music of Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr was more than simple rock and roll. It was part of a bigger legacy.
“We had a Beatles room at our house. We had to know all of the words to certain songs,” McGuigan said. “Our dad raised us to think that the Beatles were our long lost uncles who never sent money.”
The band works to create that same immediacy through the structure of the show, and McGuigan has plenty examples of its success. He remembers a woman who requested “In My Life” mere months after the death of her husband — it was the couple’s song. As McGuigan read the request from stage, a good chunk of the audience were moved to tears. He remembers playing a version of “Let It Be” for a woman who’d sung the same tune at her brother’s funeral decades back. Again, the emotional impact of the occasion wasn’t limited to the sole audience member.
All of the requests aren’t so serious. People offer stories about hearing a Beatles song at all sorts of moments in their lives, both happy and sad. The theme that recurs through them all is the durability of the music, McGuigan says. The 39-year-old can attest to that staying power with his own personal stories. He named his daughter Cartney after Paul.
That kind of connection goes deeper than mop-top wigs and fake accents.
“Yesterday and Today” will perform at 8 p.m. on March 28 at the Lone Tree Arts Center, 10075 Commons St. in Lone Tree. Tickets start at $36. Information: 720-509-1000 or http://lonetreeartscenter.org.
Reach reporter Adam Goldstein at 720-449-9707 or [email protected]