Let It Be: The (Un)Fab Four


Let It Be, a new concert-style “celebration” of the Beatles and their ubiquitous music—which you would hardly think needs more celebrating—is basically a living greatest-hits album, an ambulatory boxed set, only performed by a bunch of ringers. (To be fair, the glorified tribute band is quite musically competent, if hammy and applause-hungry.)

But because the show is so crushingly boring—a hard night’s night—it helps to pass the time by considering it as a bizarre counter-historical thought experiment. What if the Beatles hadn’t broken up, John hadn’t died, and the band never felt shy about playing live? What if, instead, they became greedy and cynical—and, when their creative drive stalled, they began endlessly touring, performing big, glitzy, sold-out shows of just the hits? Those pandering, self-parodying concerts might have looked like Let It Be. (That’s why you could never do a similar show about the Rolling Stones—they’re a concert-musical version of themselves already.)

The story sketches a bare-bones musical hagiography from the Cavern Club to the rooftop of Apple Records, avoiding any whiff of acrimony or controversy. Just the YouTube highlights, thanks: Shea, Ed Sullivan, that gooey “All You Need Is Love” performance. The setlist shuns the back catalogue’s woollier corners—no “Helter Skelter” here. This sanitized myth has no room for lost weekends or dirty deals, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi or Mark David Chapman, Yoko or Wings. Just the cuddly, eternal Beatles: mop-top muppets of ’60s peace, love, and good feelings.

In between numbers, the performers—wittering in cartoon Liverpool accents—hit on the boomer-thick crowd, making cranky jokes about “when CDs were black” (i.e., were records). (The audience demographics add an eerie dimension to the show’s rendition of “When I’m Sixty-Four.”) Projections of falling bombs and old television commercials—Bosco!—serve as historical shorthand: the ’60s for dummies.

But let’s not pretend this fluff-monster’s intended audience has any such qualms. Nostalgia-drunk spectators start singing along during the preshow music and don’t ever really stop. (When anyone appears to be in danger of sitting still and thinking for a moment, performers rush downstage, urging more and better clapping.)

If you detect a faint tremor while watching the show, it might just be the A train—or maybe it’s John Lennon, spinning in his grave.