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June 17, 2011

Tribute bands rock Myrtle Beach

Just because ABBA and the Beatles disbanded doesn't mean their music stops and their looks fade away. Tribute bands for both legendary groups have commandeered two Myrtle Beach theaters' stages for the summer with...

Just because ABBA and the Beatles disbanded doesn't mean their music stops and their looks fade away.

Tribute bands for both legendary groups have commandeered two Myrtle Beach theaters' stages for the summer with "ABsalute Gold" and "Beatlemania Now," moving into Legends in Concert and the Gilmore Auditorium, respectively.

Other tribute bands play the House of Blues in North Myrtle Beach, where Hells/Bells saluted AC/DC on June 10, and other acts will recount the music of Billy Joel and Elton John on Saturday, and in July, Poison, Motley Crue and Journey. And The Dave Matthews Tribute Band played last month at the Boathouse Waterway Bar and Grill, along the Intracoastal Waterway, west of Myrtle Beach.

ABBA activates memories for Jason Aiesi, general manager for Legends at its new site at Broadway at the Beach.

"I was about 8 or 9 years old when they were big," he said, "and on the cusp of age 10, when they were in their heyday. Believe it or not, my parents introduced me to ABBA."

Aiesi said Legends has never had ABBA in its lineup locally. Bringing in groups for the Beatles, Temptations and Four Tops in recent years, Legends has found a way to add "a whole different element to the show, a vibrancy" shared when they take turns with solo acts.

Aiesi also brought up the ideal timing for ABsalute Gold's visit, a year after ABBA's induction by Barry and Robin Gibb into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland.

"Take 'Dancing Queen,'" Aiesi said. "You how many generations that spans, with all its play in clubs and remixes? It's hard to go someplace and not hear it, especially with the Broadway production and movie 'Mamma Mia!'"

Playing husband, wife

Jo-Anne Rooney owns Ontario-based ABsalute Gold, begun as ABBA Gold more than a decade ago. She portrays Agnetha Faltskog, one of the two women from the Swedish quartet.

With brother Michael Rooney (Bjorn Ulvaeus), she and he play wife and husband like that half of ABBA in real life years ago.

Jo-Anne Rooney said by email last week at a tour stop in Cuba that Jungle Tshongo fills in to play the other man in the band, Benny Andersson, with his similar nose and expressions. Andersson was married to the other lady, Anni-Frid Lyngstad, played by Suzanne Ogrinc Lock, who joined the cast in 2004.

Rooney said in North America, "Dancing Queen had reigned as ABBA's signature song until "Mamma Mia" hit the stages, and they run equal in appeal.

"When we perform worldwide," she said, "we are amazed to hear the audience sing the words to all of our songs, even the B-side songs."

Precision with details in "costume, musicality and characters" prevails in ABsalute Gold, Rooney said, noting "Sweden's Fleetwood Mac" had traveled with a 105-person entourage and five sets of every outfit because of color and hue.

"We try to portray some of the idiosyncrasies of their personal relationships within the show, but without actually addressing it," Rooney said. "Sometimes the audience thinks this dynamic is the performers' being married - and not about the real ABBA. We take that as a compliment that we seem to make this dynamic real and natural."

Growing up with the role

Scott Arch of "Beatlemania Now," visiting from Philadelphia at the home of "The Carolina Opry," takes the role of John Lennon.

"One thing I can never be accused of is not looking like John," he said, and people confirm it regularly.

"There's not a show that goes by that we talk with audience members and someone doesn't say to me, 'It was scary; I came away crying.'"

Arch remembered growing up with the Fab Four's music and watching them on "The Ed Sullivan Show."

"As a small kid, it made me want to play guitar," Arch said. "Little did I know it would lead me to playing guitar as John Lennon in this way."

Lennon's mannerisms came easily for Arch, who played hard rock in a group years ago that eventually tried Beatles music, spurring grander ideas in the late 1970s and early '80s and connections with other Broadway show cast members.

With the same drummer as Ringo Starr for more than 10 years, Arch said he and the band mates became family, and when somebody departs, prompting a replacement, "it's very traumatic, but somehow it always to work out to the best in the end."

Arch, who combs his long hair off stage in contrast to Lennon's parting, said he has listened to Beatles music carefully through the years.

"We have not played every Beatles song," he said, "but we have played most of them."

Staples include "Hey Jude," "A Day in the Life" and "I Am the Walrus," including many songs that the original group made solely as studio records, never playing them live, Arch said.

He hopes audiences "slip back for the time into the memories the music had, and kind of lose themselves in the music."

Arch sees "Beatlemania Now" as his life's calling,

"Everyone looks good in character," he said. "We might look silly doing something else. In a way, we're kind of typecast. We are typecast."

The founder and owner of the host theater, Calvin Gilmore, said he had seen "Beatlemania Now" twice, and he liked adding a fourth show to the mix for customers this summer.

He appreciates the work and talent that go into paying respect and tribute to landmark artists, especially because "you can't find a left-handed bass player every day," a reference to Sir Paul McCartney.

"Sometimes," Gilmore said, "it's more fun to see someone who sounds more like the original artists than the original artists themselves. You know what they could sing, and for someone else to do it, that's amazing."

For artists whose performing careers end, tribute artists such as "The Temptations Revue," which did a long weekend last month at Gilmore's site, help fill a void.

"Beatlemania Now" also impresses him because Arch and the guys cover all the band's eras they carved in only eight years together.

"It goes all the way from the beginning," Gilmore said, remembering the moptops and suits of "A Hard Day's Night" evolving to "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."

"I'm a big Beatles fan, so I love all their stuff."

Heavy metal women

The rock also gets heavier, such as with the all-female Judas Priestess, paying homage to pioneer metal rockers Judas Priest. They played in December and May at Suck Bang Blow Four Corners in May in Murrells Inlet, and hope to return this fall, said MilitiA, the lead singer, whose parents retired from her native Maryland to Myrtle Beach.

Before this band started more than a year ago in New York, she and lead guitarist D Mercedes had seen each other play in different tribute bands. When each group folded, the two women kept in touch, later forming a quintet that travels up and down the East Coast.

MilitiA said she missed Judas Priest's peak in the 1970s and '80s, but she has enjoyed discovering the group's repertoire after the fact.

"I love the whole story of Judas Priest," she said. "Their rise and evolution and their continuing to evolve, and they're back in the media today."

The attraction goes beyond the songs.

"I love not just heavy metal," she said, "but their brand of heavy metal: their artwork, the styles, logos, the story behind each song."

MilitiA will never forget meeting Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford backstage at a taping of "That Metal Show" on VH1.

"We were invited to hang out as guests," she said. "We just had a blast. He gave us their blessing."

For Judas Priestess, men make up most of the crowds, MilitiA said, but the group sees more women turning out, as word spreads about this "all-girls band."

She also has noticed older Priest fans.

"They come out to sing along and see how we do," MilitiA said. "A lot of times it is a test to see if we're doing it justice. ... I'm not Rob Halford, and I'm not trying to be. We're not imitating anyone. We're taking it and putting our sexy little spin on it."

ABsalute Gold's Rooney said tribute shows serve dual purposes in each venue.

"Myrtle Beach audiences are a mixture of people and histories from the globe," she said. "Our goal is to provide your international audience with a trip down 'memory lane,' bringing them back to memories they created during the times they heard these songs."

For newcomers to ABBA, Rooney hopes the music and energy of the show let them escape everyday "pressures, issues and challenges for a little while," so they can "re-enter their personal worlds again with a new perspective in some small way."

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