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Weeklings At The Cutting Room, Wednesday, January 13th, 2016

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while their guitar gently Weeks

 

I was sitting with a couple visiting from England  at the Light Of Day benefit yesterday. In town before going to Chicago for the second night of Bruce Springsteen’s The River Tour, the friendly twosome had bought their hard to get River  ticket through a Springsteen inspired record store in London. As part of the package, they received tickets for all the Jersey and New York fundraisers: “The Light of Day Foundation, Inc., utilizes the power of music to raise money and awareness in its continuing battle to defeat Parkinson’s disease and related illnesses such as PSP and ALS within our lifetime.”

Given the foundation’s name, and given its Asbury Park roots, the Bruce connection is hardly a shocker. The opening bands owed him a debt and were first rate Jersey classic rock, dirt under your fingernails, blue collar bar bands. Both the Gary Douglas Band and Joe D’urso and Stone Caravan, were tough combos. Gary adept at rockers and country and the blues with a fine “Do You Wanna Go” a highlight. and Joe a one man war cry against apathy and cynicism.

Anyway, that’s why we were there and the London couple had never heard of Weeklings, so I described them as Power Pop more deeply inspired by the Beatles than usual, and after the set the guy said, “I’d never realized how many Beatles songs we’ve never heard live, I even loved their own stuff.” Over here in New York we are spoiled for Beatles tribute bands, from BB King’s resident band Rain, to Will Lee’s best in class the Fab Faux, if you wanna hear Beatles covers, it isn’t that difficult. But Weeklings are special.

Indeed, a couple of years ago I saw Weeklings’ Paul McCartney Glen Burtnik (aka Lefty Weekling tonight) perform a Beatles tribute show with Marshall Crenshaw taking the John Lennon role. It was a  reprise from where the two started their career back in the 70s in Beatlemania and a very good show. Local hero Glen, who you might remember from his stint at Styx, impressed completely with his vocal channeling of Paul McCartney -though only if you can say Paulie channelled Little Richard.

But the most telling moment of Weeklings’ set wasn’t musical, the John Lennon of the band Bob Burger (aka Zeek), who Glen recruited for Styx years ago,  said before a new one “Some Day”, “It’s amazing how many hours you can put into a two minute song”. That’s what impresses, the pure hard work it takes to make it look like snapping your fingers. Weeklings appear to be easy peasy Beatle Cuckoo Birds, a sort of “Help”/”Ouch” with a penchant for the good early Beatles and a little bit of territory carved out for themselves covering the obscurer Beatle tracks and throwing in originals. Mid set they perform a newbie “Don’t Know, Don’t Care”, which starts like the Beatles covering Chuck Berry and then moves into its own power pop territory.

Weekling are so great, I kept on changing my mind as to why they are so great. They opened the set with “Little Tease” which has you lurching into “I Saw Her Standing There” before it veers away and leaves you grinning. If  Joe Bellia (Aka Smokestack) was bopping his head you’d swear it was Ringo and this is really an act of alchemy for Southside Johnny And The Asbury Dukes drummer, he is at perfect service for anything the band needs and not a drum solo (though a few drum rolls) in the lot. He is terrific, especially with Lefty, playing a  Höfner 500/1, and the visual center of attention. Yup, it is a drummer’s band I thought, till the second song, “It Won’t Be Long” that found me turning to my new found Limey buddies and claiming “It’s all about the harmonies”.

By the time they reached “LITTLE STEVEN’S UNDERGROUND GARAGE RADIO …  #2 COOLEST SONG IN THE WORLD 2015”, George Harrison’s “You Know What To Do”, it was clear Weeklings were a one band Beatles For Sale. Sung by lead guitarist John Merjave (aka Rocky), it was a bright smart thing with cool harmonies but Rocky had better waiting for us. The penultimate song of the evening was a string bending cover of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”. To claim that since Clapton already had the solo down cold all Rocky had to do was copy it is like dismissing every Philharmonic orchestra because they are copying blueprints. In other words, it is nonsense and Rocky made your heart ache with the beauty of his performance. So close to the stage you could see him right at the neck of the guitar. A beautiful soulful standout.

The band ended with a terrific “I Am The Walrus”including a mini jam, and in 35 minutes converted anybody uncertain, though after their debut (? -they claim it is their second) album, last years The Weeklings, I am not sure who that would be. Mixing the Beatles with the Apples Of Stereo and throwing in their own unique power pop melodicism, these guys were excellent.

Grade: A

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