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I’ve seen Paul McCartney in concert five times, and never have I sweat, ached and cursed as much as I did trying to see a Beatles cover band this afternoon.
I shouldn’t be surprised. As arguably the biggest public show every year at SXSW, Rachael Ray’s Feedback party hits capacity early in the day, and the line quickly snakes around Stubb’s and down toward I-35. This lowly freelancer spent a long time in the throng, hoping to catch a glimpse of this year’s headliner, Dr. Pepper’s Jaded Hearts Club Band, the Beatles tribute supergroup featuring Muse’s Matt Bellamy, Chris Cester of Jet, Miles Kane of the Last Shadow Puppets and Nine Inch Nails guitarist Ilan Rubin, among others.
Thankfully, a wave of attendees left Stubb’s minutes before the Jaded Hearts Club Band took the stage. (Apparently, the Venn diagram of people who like Kurt Vile and Beatles tribute bands is nearly two separate circles.) A new wave of fans shuffled through the gates and darted for the few precious shady nooks inside Stubb’s as the leather-clad rockers took the stage.
And after all that, Dr. Pepper’s Jaded Hearts Club band sounded… fine.
Don’t get me wrong, the septet (three guitars, two lead singers, a drummer and a bassist) certainly had the chops to approximate the indelible vocal harmonies on early Fab Four nuggets like “I Feel Fine” and “Help,” as well as the scorching guitar solos on raucous latter-day cuts like “Taxman” and “Hey Bulldog.” But the band rarely seemed to have any, you know, fun, as they tore through the timeless catalog. Their best attempt at stage banter came between “Money” and “Taxman,” when Cester told the audience, “If you want a lot of money, you gotta get ready for the (expletive) taxman.”
I’d like to believe Cester was sipping a lot more than Dr. Pepper backstage, because he missed several vocal cues and flubbed lyrics, frequently glancing down and to his right at what could have been a prompter or lyrics sheet. Between the leather jacket, black shades and affected cockney accent, Cester’s performance occasionally sounded like “Glee Goes British Invasion” (which, to my knowledge, does not yet exist, and I pray it stays that way).
Yet there were other times, like on the rip-roaring closer “Helter Skelter,” when Cester’s raspy howl perfectly complemented the thunderous cymbal crashes and triple-guitar assault (even if he still came in late on the second verse). Bellamy, who sticks to bass in this group, unleashed his ungodly high scream during the verse harmonies, and the audience roared and pumped their fists in approval. Suddenly, Dr. Pepper’s Jaded Hearts Club Band sounded like the best party band in the world, good enough for me to scold myself for being so picky. Sorry guys, I know I can be a tough critic sometimes. But y’all were still fab every now and then.