I already knew that Neal Morse and Mike Portnoy were both Beatles fanatics from comments made in various interviews and, oh, from performing half of Abbey Road on their Transatlantic Live In Europe DVD. So is was only a matter of time when they would hook up with a couple of other world class Beatles freaks and do a full-on tribute show. Yellow Matter Custard – One Night In New York City is that show.
This DVD was recorded live at B.B. King’s in New York City on May 18, 2003, but probably not with the intention of being officially released on DVD. The video was recorded by what appears to be two guys armed with camcorders, and the audio is only presented in a rather muddy Dolby stereo mix. The audio does get much clearer the more you crank up the volume. In this particular case, I have to let it all slide since this is obviously a "for the fans only" release, and is available only through Mike Portnoy’s website. Hell, the DVD cover even has a big "Official Bootleg" stamped smack-dab across the front, so it’s not like anyone is being fooled here, like with some other DVDs we know.
Yellow Matter Custard is comprised of Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater, Transatlantic) on drums, Neal Morse ex-(Spock’s Beard, Transatlantic) on keyboards and guitar, Paul Gilbert (Racer X, Mr. Big) on guitar, and Matt Bissonette, who has played with just about everybody including Joe Satriani, and Ringo Starr of late, on bass. They all sing pretty damn good too – well, maybe not Portnoy. These guys have taken their Beatles seriously and must have rehearsed considerably to play this 30 song set as brilliantly as they did. A funny quote from Portnoy just prior to "Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey" says it all as to just how challenging some of these old tunes could be – "It’s unbelievable, you have four guys here that play some pretty fucking complicated music in our day jobs with our other bands. We play like 19/16, swapping back and forth a million different time signatures, but this next song totally stumped all four of us, how to start this fucking thing."
This was not an effort to impersonate The Beatles, such as 1964 -The Tribute does, or to painstakingly duplicate every musical note with live instruments and no samples, such as The Fab Faux does. Sure Bissonette broke out his Hofner bass, and Morse finally got to use his Rickenbacker guitar, but these guys were just up their jamming, with a little help from their friend Bert Baldwin who added some extra keyboards, percussion, and samples from backstage. The most refreshing aspect of this performance is that they included many of the more obscure Beatles tracks such as "I Call Your Name" from The Beatle’s Second Album, "When I Get Home" from A Hard Days Night, "Rain" the B-side to "Paperback Writer", "Baby’s In Black" from Beatles For Sale, and "Think For Yourself from Rubber Soul."
All of those older numbers that featured Lennon and McCartney’s wonderful harmony vocals, such as "You Can’t Do That" or "Ticket To Ride", were sung magnificently by Morse and Gilbert. At times I swore I was back at the Hammersmith Odeon listening to the Fab…..hey, I can dream can’t I? I’ve always been a bigger fan of The Beatles‘ later, more psychedelic-rock period such as Sgt Pepper through Abbey Road. Watching "Come Together", "I Am The Walrus", and "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" in succession, near the midway point of the set, was the icing on the cake for me. This is where Gilbert loosened up more and indulged HIS fans with some of his insane fretwork. First he plays the "Come Together" solo with his mouth…perfectly! Then, his rhythm playing on "I Am The Walrus" sounded like an army of cellos and made the song sound larger than life. "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" was the absolute kneel down and worshipper as Gilbert pulled out all the stops with one of the most impressive guitar solos I have ever seen – all the while staying true to the spirit of the song. Portnoy commented after "that’s not the way that Clapton played it….he was slow hand, your fast hands….fuck, how the hell do we follow that?!" – and he plays with John Petrucci in his day job!
Just when I thought it couldn’t get much better, the encore featured Sgt. Pepper’s glorious ending succession of "Lovely Rita", "Good Morning Good Morning", "Sgt. Pepper (Reprise)", and "A Day In The Life" – more songs you wouldn’t necessarily expect from a Beatles tribute. Almost two hours and 30 songs later, I was still hungry for more – shitty production and all. Now wouldn’t it be great to see them reprise this performance with a first-class production crew on hand. There I go dreaming again.
Magical Mystery Tour
Dig A Pony
She Said She Said
I Call Your Name
You Can’t Do That
When I Get Home
Free As A Bird
I Am The Walrus
While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Drum Solo/Carry That Weight Jam
Baby’s In Black
I’ll Be Back
The Night Before
You’re Gonna Lose That Girl
Ticket To Ride
Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey
Think For Yourself
I Want You (She’s So Heavy)
You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)
Good Morning Good Morning
Sgt. Pepper (Reprise)
A Day In The Life
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