Craigie stripped the songs on Abbey Road down to their very essence.
Polaris Hall, Portland, OR
John Craigie has no problem telling a story. Hell, his website is adorned with the tagline: “Humorous Stories, Serious Folk.” The Portland-based musician has made a name for himself by including amusing interstitial tales whenever he plays, making his show akin to someone like Billy Bragg, who loves to gab during his sets. But how does that playfulness work when interpreting the music of someone else? And what if that someone else is none other than the Beatles?
Craigie recently played a series of sold-out shows in his hometown where took on Abbey Road all by himself on guitar. This comes on the heels of him doing the same thing with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and The White Album in prior years. He called the concerts Abbey Road Lonely and did exactly what he had promised: rearranged the entire record for guitar and harmonica.
Craigie told us that he hoped the shows would interest the small cross-section of Beatles fans who were also fans of his music. The night was set up so Craigie would play a song and then, mixing truth and humor, give us the stories behind the music. So rather than just hearing Abbey Road from back to front, Craigie treated to us tales of John Lennon meeting Yoko Ono, Ringo Starr bringing a suitcase full of beans to India, George Harrison cribbing “Something” from James Taylor and how Abbey Road was the final salvo by the Beatles before they broke up.
Craigie stripped the songs on Abbey Road down to their very essence. He knows his limitations as a solo musician and rather than replicate some of the harder sections, Craigie instead changed these rock tunes into what is promised on his website: serious folk. “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” lost none of its intensity but Craigie recast the rocker into a slow-burn dirge. Meanwhile, “Here Comes the Sun” remained a delicate crowd-pleaser, the song Craigie claimed was his favorite on the record.
As a storyteller, Craigie is dynamic and self-effacing. His jokes, no matter how lame, had the audience laughing and cheering. He used his shows the week before in California as fodder (since people in Portland don’t really like Californians), ribbing the audience as being too serious down there. I wonder what he says about us when he’s there!
Rather than end the show with “Her Majesty,” Craigie claimed the short song was initially supposed to be part of the suite that resides on the second side of the record and included it in that slot. He said that anyone who disagreed with the placement could come and argue with him at the merch table. And rather than play the medley straight through, Craigie broke it into three distinct parts so he could tell his stories.
Bolstered by the classic source material, Craigie played an enjoyable concert, coming back onto the stage to play “Don’t Let Me Down” for the encore. Fifty years later, the songs of the Beatles still persist and thankfully people like John Craigie exist to keep the magic alive.