When one thinks of a Beatles Tribute, they might imagine four men impersonating band members dressed in wigs and Beatle boots. The McGuigan brothers, however, want to bring a whole new interactive experience through their show, "Yesterday and Today," which runs at The Marcus Center Feb. 7-9. Wednesday evening, Jan. 22, the show creator and oldest of the three brothers, Billy McGuigan, took the time to share how this one-of-a-kind tribute centers around the audience while getting to the heart of Beatles music.
It becomes a lot less about us as a band and more about us as Beatles fans.
"Yesterday and Today" is most obviously different from your typical Beatles Tribute because rather than find a group of impersonators, you find three brothers out of Omaha without wigs, costumes, or accents. The driving force of the show is not to recreate a Beatles concert, but to honor their music and the fans who love it. Before the show, audience members are asked to turn in a song request with their name and reason for choosing the song and ten minutes before showtime, the McGuigan brothers go through the requests and arrange a set list. Billy McGuigan explained his reasoning behind this audience-driven Beatles tribute saying,
It's not really focused on the band so much as it's focused on the audience's experience of the Beatles' music so we try to take the angle of making it more of a tribute to Beatles fans.... Not only do their songs make up our set list but their stories provide a narrative for the evening.
The idea and talent behind the show can be attributed to the McGuigan brothers' father, William. Growing up with a father in the military, Billy, Ryan, and Matthew McGuigan traveled the world and developed their love of the Beatles through their music-loving dad. Though William McGuigan passed away from leukemia in 1996 at 42 years old, Billy says, that Beatles music is "the language that always brings us back together."
I always knew in the back of my mind that this was sort of the inheritance that was left to us and that instead of struggling as individuals that together we could make something happen and luckily it's been just fantastic working with them.
It took over a decade for this connection between the brothers and their father to turn into "Yesterday and Today," and Billy describes this transition saying,
We didn't create the show until about 2007 but it was one of those things where we would get together and we wouldn't necessarily concentrate on the fact that our dad wasn't there and would start singing Beatles songs. We'd do that and see that he's with us, and so this show is really about him as well.
But what started as a connection to their father soon turned into a personal, musical experience with Beatles fans across the country. The narrative and flow of the evening falls upon the reasons audience members requested certain songs, and it follows that it becomes a personal event. Reasons can range from "I like the song" to wanting to hear a song in honor of a lost love one. Billy commented on tributes filled with wigs, costumes, and fake accents saying,
That almost makes fun of it. We're taking [the fans'] very personal requests and handling it very delicately and trying to honor their memory as opposed to honor what the Beatles looked like…. I just love that we get to make it not cheesy and not kitschy little thing.
Rather than take the music that links to joyful or poignant moments in our lives and dressing it up in wigs and fake accents, the McGuigan brothers get to this personal core of the music through a request-based set list.
Since you're not tied to the wigs or the accents you can play 'Love Me Do' or 'I Am The Walrus' back-to-back right next to each other but what we discovered is it sort of relaxes the audience, as well, not seeing us try to do that. They kind of take a breath and start focusing on their experience making it more of a personalized thing.
And yes, they can play any and all Beatles songs. Billy and Ryan play guitar and piano while Matthew plays bass, and the brothers are accompanied by a drummer, lead guitar player, and piano player. They've spent seven years learning over 220 songs so that they are ready for any request thrown at them, and they enjoy the challenge when the audience tries to stump them. They also have the added benefit of being brothers who know their strengths well enough where they can switch songs and compliment each others' voices so well.
If we were just doing this as a job and if we didn't really believe the message of the show we were doing I think that might make it a little harder. But loving the music and really loving the response that you get when you play requests correctly like the record makes you really strive for perfection.
There's no denying that the McGuigan brothers love what they do and want to pay tribute to fellow fans in a tribute that gets to the heart of Beatles songs. "Yesterday and Today" runs at The Marcus Center Friday, Feb. 7 at 8 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 8 at 2 & 8 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 9 at 2 p.m. Tickets are available online or by calling 414-273-7206. For more information on "Yesterday and Today" or the McGuigan brothers, visit http://www.billymcguigan.com/yesterday-and-today.
I think that even if you're a casual Beatles fan you would love this show. Don't let the fact that we don't dress up have any play in not going. I think people are really going to be blown away by how cool it is to request your set list and see other people's reasons. It's such a special show, and I don't say that because I wrote it! There's something special that happens every night and it has nothing to do with us as a band. It has everything to do with the music and the audience.. and people love it, as do we onstage. It's a very cool experience.