Japanese 'Beatles' Invade the Nation's Capital

The Silver Beats, one of Japan's most popular Beatles tribute bands, takes its name from an early incarnation of The Beatles. The band is now playing in the United States, including at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C.

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ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

The Silver Beats are a Japanese band that pays tribute to another great beginning. They take their name from an early incarnation of The Beatles - back when John, Paul, George and Pete Best were scruffy kids scraping gigs in Liverpool clubs. The Silver Beats have been staging their own invasion of America - relying on word of mouth and fan blogs to bring in the crowds.

They played Washington, D.C.'s 9:30 Club this weekend so we sent our producer, Petra Mayer, to check out the scene.

(Soundbite of song, "Can't Buy Me Love")

Mr. TADAAKI NAGANUMA (Bassist, Vocals, The Silver Beats): (Singing) Can't buy me love. Love. Can't buy me love. I'll buy you a diamond ring...

PETRA MAYER: For a minute, I can almost believe I've fallen through a wormhole to 1964. The sold-out crowd is screaming, waving hands and lighters. And the girl in front of me has a really impressive beehive 'do. Up on stage, there are four moptops in skinny gray suits. But something is not quite right. For one thing, George is playing a Fender Telecaster, which I happen to know he only used much later in his career. And for another, they're Japanese.

Mr. ERIC MABUCHI (Guitar, Vocals, Keyboard, The Silver Beats): My name is Eric and I play as John Lennon.

Mr. NAGANUMA: I'm Tadaaki Naganuma, Paul McCartney.

Mr. HAJIME KUBO (Guitar, Vocals, The Silver Beats): My name is Hajime Kubo, as George Harrison.

Mr. YUKINOBU KABE (Drums, The Silver Beats): My name is Yukinobu Kabe. I'm Ringo Starr.

MAYER: Meet the Silver Beats, part of Japan's thriving Beatles impersonation scene. Back home in Tokyo, they play five nights a week, six half-hour sets a night in Roppongi's very own version of the Cavern Club.

(Soundbite of song, "All My Loving")

Mr. NAGANUMA: (Singing) Close your eyes and I'll kiss you. Tomorrow, I'll miss you. Remember I'll always be true.

MAYER: Doesn't it get old after a while?

Mr. MABUCHI: It's always new. You feel like - you're not doing old songs. That's what we feel, I think.

MAYER: That's Eric Mabuchi, who bears an uncanny resemblance to John Lennon. He's the youngest one in the band. Tadaaki, who plays Paul McCartney, has been doing this for 25 years. According to the Silver Beats' Web site, he's sung "Yesterday" more times than Sir Paul himself. And Kubo, who plays George, was once hired to transcribe the entire Beatles catalogue. He knows them all - even the obscurities. And he's pretty convincing with that Telecaster.

(Soundbite of music)

MAYER: The audience is loving it. I think it's true, on some deep molecular level, that everyone knows the words to Beatles song, as if they're engrained in our collective cultural DNA. And the crowd here at the 9:30 Club is proving my theory at the top of their lungs.

(Soundbite of song, "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da")

Mr. NAGANUMA: Everybody.

Crowd: (Singing) Ob-la-di. Ob-la-da. Life goes on, brah. Lala how the life goes on.

MAYER: The strangest thing is that many of the people here tonight have never heard of The Silver Beats. Like Lisa Neal(ph) and her friend Joyce Price(ph).

Ms. LISA NEAL: Nope. Not at all.

Ms. JOYCE PRICE: We did actually look them up on the Internet, though.

Ms. NEAL: Because we're like, who's playing at the 9:30 Club tonight? Oh, a Japanese Beatles band. Yeah. Perfect.

Ms. CHRISTINE GALANI: I think I saw them on the Web site and then my friend Carolyn told me to come on down. And so I did.

MAYER: Christine Galani(ph) is a local girl who actually saw the original Beatles at the old Washington Coliseum.

Ms. GALANI: August 15th, 1966. You know how much a ticket cost for The Beatles in 1966? Five dollars.

MAYER: I asked Christine Galani what she thought of The Silver Beats.

Ms. GALANI: Oh, I thought that was fabulous. I haven't had this much fun since -I had sex about an hour ago. That was fun.

Petra Mayer, NPR News, Washington.

(Soundbite of music)

SEABROOK: Our parting words tonight come from a Beatle, about The Beatles. John Lennon sparked a firestorm in 1966, when he told a London newspaper: We're more popular than Jesus now. I don't know which will go first, rock and roll or Christianity.

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