As younger generations have further canonized the Beatles the same way their parents did, the actual recorded music of John, Paul, George and Ringo have become a sort of public utility. With each passing year, the Beatles seem less like a musical artist than a subdialect a community speaks.
That is especially true in Portland, where Thanksgiving hangovers have become synonymous with the ritual of "Beatles Night," an annual three-day celebration of the Fab Four hosted by musicians Spencer Albee and Sean Morin and a parade of Maine artists. This year, they return to play The Red Album (1962-66) Friday, The Blue Album (1967-70) Saturday, and a family matinee Sunday. Since last year, Albee has rechristened the group Spencer and the Walrus, expanding the annual gig at the State Theatre into an official and travel-ready Beatles tribute act. Returning is the group’s incredible Portland talent, namely Jon Roods, Dan Capaldi, Blythe Armitage, Andrew Hodgkins, Katie Matzell, and members of the Fogcutters and Maine Youth Rock Orchestra. Expect guest artists Genevieve Beaudoin, Hannah Daman, Dominic Lavoie, Zach Jones, Max Garcia-Conover, the Ghost of Paul Revere, and Wilco’s John Stirratt to make cameos as well.
We caught up with Albee as he prepares Beatles Night's sixteenth year.
The Phoenix: You've been doing this for 16 years. How do you keep it feeling new?
Spencer Albee: We try to switch it up. It’s almost like doing a play — every year we take notes and try to figure how we can streamline it and make it more fun. This is the fourth year we've done the family show as a [Sunday] matinee. It ends up being crazy fun — a bunch of people our age with their littles running around, and like, a horseshoe of mindful parents with their kids. Kids really enjoy it.
The Phoenix: I mean this in a good way, but that seems like a sort of forced indoctrination of music appreciation for young people, which I don't see much anymore. I remember Rick Charette and Raffi when I was a kid, but I don't know how that world operates now.
SA: Yeah, same. My first show was Judy Collins. The Beatles are really good for this. Obviously, songs like "Yellow Submarine" and "Octopus’s Garden" are geared toward young people. [Guitarist] Sean Morin’s partner has a kid that just turned 10, and he handed the Sunday setlist to me, complete. We also try to throw in a little bit of the stuff that piqued our interest when we were kids, too.
The Phoenix: As you've been doing this, are there any Beatles songs you didn't care for at first but grew to like, or vice versa?
SA: Well, I still don’t like "The Long and Winding Road," that’s reaffirmed. But other people love it, so whatever. We’ve actually never played "Get Back" before this year. Now that we’ve put it on the desk, I realize that song is great. There's a Harrison tune called "Old Brown Shoe" that's pretty out there and relentless, and I really like that song now.
The Phoenix: How did you come to choose the red and blue compilations for this year?
SA: There's a lot of early stuff we haven’t covered yet. It's easy to do whole albums [like] Abbey Road or Sgt. Pepper, but some of the earlier albums aren't as compelling as total bodies of work. These are collections of singles, and they’re really strong in the way we present them. Some of the band’s later albums, they actually constructed them as shows. They have these big openings and go on journeys.
The Phoenix: I know this stuff is formative for you, there must be personal stories you have to some of these songs. Any in particular that bring you back to your youth?
SA: One of my earliest memories is associated with "Golden Slumbers" — specifically the drum solo. My mom had this technique when I was a toddler and she wanted to vacuum. She’d put me in my stroller and move me around. I remember her listening to it, and I remember those drums. She was like, 24, and I remember her just going bananas to that drum solo. That memory clicked years later.
"Beatles Night," with Spencer & the Walrus | Nov 23-25 | Fri-Sat 8 pm; Sun 4 pm | State Theatre, 609 Congress St, Portland | www.statetheatreportland.com