With all of the recent Rutlings starting to wobble, a little background music here....
The recent interest in this reunion had its genesis in two shows played in early September 1994 at the Troubadour in West Hollywood. I attended both shows and wrote the following report at that time. I'm glad SOMEBODY was listening - I hope that same SOMEBODY will listen when I now say that the best way to go with any live shows is to replicate that same formula (bandwise) for success - and of course begin again at the Troubadour!
Neil Innes is about the most underrated songwriter I know! Anyone interested in the Rutles here would do well to investigate Neil's history, from the Bonzo Dog Band to his solo music to The World to Grimms, not to mention his involvement with Monty Python.
"I suffered for my music...and now it's your turn." With this famous introduction to his "Protest Song", Neil Innes opened both shows this week at the Troubadour in West Hollywood, the club famous for putting Elton John on the American musical map in the early 1970s. Certainly one of the most underrated songwriters in pop history, Innes is not only a very gifted musician but an excellent lyricist and master wordsmith. Having gained fame in the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band and fronting the now-infamous Rutles, Neil had also created a series entitled "The Innes Book of Records" on British television over a decade ago. Since then, he has been working in British children's television.
As a result of all of the intentional Beatles references in the Rutles collection, Innes reportedly had to fork over a portion of the royalties to the Beatles music publishing company of the day. And by a strange twist of fate, with that famous buyout of the catalog by one Michael Jackson, the "gloved one" also became the unwitting owner of the invaluable Rutles works. And so, with an offer to Michael and his new bride to attend the show (despite their planned award show appearance on Thursday night), an undaunted Ron Nasty succeeded his alter-ego Neil Innes on the stage on both nights in fronting the New Rutles for their only engagement planned for the immediate future.
With a simple two-line mention in the Los Angeles Times and no noticeable advertising, the crowd was, not surprisingly, comprised of mainly die-hard British and British-American fans, though there was more of a mix for the Saturday show, drawn mostly by the Monty Python connection during this UK-LA festival week. Despite very reasonable ticket prices and the fact that the shows were slow to sell out, all in attendance were completely blown away by the performance on the first night and, despite a considerably different approach, those returning were not one bit disappointed by the second show. My guest and I concur that these two shows were far and away the best shows either of us have ever attended!
Although Neil has aged considerably in the past decade, he still retains the impish Harold Lloyd features and hasn't lost his sense of fun and parody. To an inveterate Innes fan, the opening few songs, performed solo, provided a slightly (and, perhaps, intentionally) uneven start, but such hits as "Crystal Balls," "Urban Spaceman" and "How Sweet to be an Idiot" served their purpose in setting the stage for the New Rutles.
Donning a blonde wig and army camouflage jacket, Neil returned as Ron Nasty to lead the New Rutles (for these appearances, played by the Beatles-soundalike band, the Moptops) through a sizable portion of the "pre-fab four" repertoire.
The effect of the Thursday night show, which included an eight-piece orchestra, can only be described as surreal, particularly in the renditions of songs such as "Doubleback Alley", "Piggy in the Middle" and "Love Life." Due to the intimate club setting, the musical content and the perfect sound levels at the show, my guest and I could only feel that this was this crowd's own little secret discovery, much as it must have seemed in the Cellar in Hamburg many years ago. Until now, I would never have given serious consideration to seeing a band like the Moptops, but the entire crowd was instantly converted, not only in their performance during the New Rutles portion of the show, but in the "third act" of the night: the Moptops reemerged to perform Beatles songs from across the spectrum to perfection. During this portion of the Saturday evening show, Neil Innes and Greg Philingaines (keyboard player for Eric Clapton, and Ed Sullivan/Billy Preston impersonator extraordinaire) also rejoined the band for a time and again floored all in attendance with unbelievable renditions of many favorites such as "Back in the U.S.S.R" and "Hey Jude," rounding out three hours of pure fun and escapism.
I had a chance to speak very briefly with Neil after the Thursday show. He informed me that there are no immediate plans to continue with a tour or additional appearances, but he is receiving some persistent pressure in Britain to follow up with a second Rutles project. Hopefully, the crowd response at both of these shows will help him to reconsider! And, Saturday Night Live, you know Neil! Are you listening?!?