The Beatles ruled the world in the Sixties. When they toured in America, the Fab Four made headline news when they arrived in various cities. Although it’s been 55 years since they made their TV debut on the Ed Sullivan Show, their popularity hasn’t faded. For example, Yesterday, a new British romantic comedy film, features a struggling musician who realizes he’s the only person on Earth who can remember The Beatles after waking up in an alternate timeline where they never existed. Abby Road, arguably the greatest album by The Beatles, will soon be released as a 50th-anniversary box set, complete with high res stereo, 5.1 surround, and a collection of unreleased material.
As a certified baby boomer, I’ve seen my fair share of Beatle tribute bands over the years, but there’s nothing like Beat-Lele. They don’t need to dress up in fancy Sgt. Pepper replica costumes or talk in phony Liverpool accents – their focus is reproducing the music properly, with a ukulele twist, and making sure the audience has fun during the concert.
Beat-Lele have been around for almost 10 years now with the last four exclusively playing on the ukulele. They remain the only Beatle tribute band with this niche. Sonny Aquino, who does a fantastic interpretation of John Lennon, plays the baritone ukulele. Alastar McNeil plays both the 4- and 8-string ukulele and does a wonderful job with George Harrison’s solos. Nolet Quiason plays the bass ukulele. Yes, there is a bass ukulele, and it sounds amazing. Dennis Muth is the band’s Ringo; however, he does it with just a cajón, crash and hi-hat cymbals, and a foot pedal that hits a wooden block. Everyone gets a chance to sing lead and take a solo.
Last Saturday’s show at the Hilo Palace Theatre marked Beat-Lele’s second appearance at the venue. Derrick Lining, the group’s manager, acted as MC for the evening and invited Thomas Fratinardo, from a local Christian radio station, on stage to offer an opening prayer.
Lining first heard Beat-Lele at a Honolulu restaurant with a small crowd of about 10 people. “I had chicken-skin all night listening to these guys,” said Lining in his introduction. When he learned that they didn’t have a promoter/manager, he immediately offered his services. Since then, the band has appeared at Liverpool’s International Beatle Week Festival and performed at the Cavern Club where The Beatles got their start. Before this year’s Palace show, they packed the McCoy Studio Theater at Maui Arts & Cultural Center with their “island-style” Beatles music.
Just before the show started, I got a tap on my shoulder. “Are you connected with the band?” asked a rather energetic lady who sat behind me. It tuned out she wanted to make sure it was OK to dance on the open area in front of the stage. When she got the green light, she bolted out of her seat and danced solo for practically every number played – often using a long rainbow banner that she twirled with a feverish rhythm. Other audience members eventually joined her.
There were numerous unique song interpretations throughout the concert. I particularly liked the uke-only version of “Eleanor Rigby.” Alastar McNeil’s solo during “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” was jaw-dropping, and better than Jake Shimabukuro’s take. Perhaps the most thrilling moment was watching McNeil and Aquino duel it out during the final moments of the Abby Road medley. Quiason sang part of the song in Hawaiian. Very cool!
Beat-Lele currently has a self-titled CD available, released in 2017, and produced by Dave Tucciarone, a two-time Grammy® award-winning producer/engineer as well as a 15-time Na Hoku Hanohano award winner. He also worked on Beat-Lele’s second album, The Fab Four on Four Strings, which is due for an early November release. After the Palace show, Beat-Lele is headed for the Ukulele Festival in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Eight Days A Week | I Feel Fine | All My Loving | She Loves You | I Want To Hold Your Hand | Roll Over Beethoven | Boys | This Boy | Can’t Buy Me Love | Twist And Shout | Help! | I Need You | Ticket To Ride | Eleanor Rigby | Taxman | Drive My Car |
Nowhere Man | If I Needed Someone | In My Life | The Night Before | Yellow Submarine | Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band/With a Little Help from My Friends/Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds | While My Guitar Gently Weeps | Penny Lane | Come Together | Here Comes The Sun | Octopus’ Garden | Abby Road Medley |
To learn more about Beat-Lele and see their current tour schedule, stop by their website.
Read our review of Beat-Lele’s 2018’s appearance at the Palace Theatre.
Steve Roby is a music journalist, an L.A. Times best-selling author, and originally from San Francisco. He’s been featured in the NY Times, Rolling Stone, and Billboard Magazine. Roby is also the Managing Editor of Big Island Music Magazine.
Photos/video: Steve Roby