It was never going to be easy for Denny Laine. As the first male partner Paul McCartney would work with on a consistent basis following the breakup of the Beatles, the former Moody Blues, Electric String Band and Ginger Baker’s Air Force member was always going to be compared to John Lennon. I don’t consider this worth dwelling on, but ask that you simply ruminate for a moment on just how ridiculous (and unfair) this comparison is.
Laine was the perfect foil for what McCartney and his band, Wings, did throughout the 1970s. Macca was not interested in having a fully equal creative partner like Lennon had been. But he was a “band guy,” and he wanted camaraderie, creativity and a common purpose, as well as someone to share (a little bit of) the spotlight. Laine did that job incredibly well, and he contributed greatly to the three-part harmony vocal sound that would help to define Wings as something separate from the Beatles.
Laine’s greatest contribution to both McCartney’s oeuvre and '70s rock was surely the “Band on the Run” album – although his chunky rhythm guitar playing and singing added greatly to the resonance of the unjustly maligned (and recently reissued, in deluxe format) “Wild Life” and “Red Rose Speedway” collections. He also wrote some great songs that were included on the "Wings at the Speed of Sound," "Venus and Mars" and "London Town" albums. But for "Band on the Run," he was truly McCartney's right-hand man.
Laine proved himself to be a stalwart companion for "Band On the Run,” not least because he stuck by McCartney when half the Wings band quit on the eve of the planned departure to Lagos, Nigeria, where recording sessions for the album took place. With just McCartney, Laine and Linda McCartney on site, each was required to fill in for the missing Wing-men. As a result, Laine is all over the record that many consider to be McCartney's finest post-Beatles creation.
Laine and his Moody Wing Band will play at 7 p.m. on Jan. 16 in the Sportsmen’s Tavern (326 Amherst St.) for a gig that will include full performances of both “Band On the Run” and “The Magnificent Moodies,” the latter being the Moody Blues album for which Laine handled lead vocal and guitar duties, in the process, crafting the #1 hit “Go Now.” Laine’s previous stops at the Sportsmen’s have sold out. ($30/$35, Showclix.com.)
You might think it’s strange to include an ELO tribute band in a piece that is ostensibly Beatle-related, but for my money, the entire history of Jeff Lynne’s Electric Light Orchestra has been an extended, multi-platinum celebration of the Fab Four's influence. In fact, John Lennon famously called the group "sons of the Beatles." In addition to ELO, Lynne also produced and contributed ideas to strong solo albums from McCartney (“Flaming Pie”) and George Harrison (“Cloud Nine”).
So he’s clearly got some Beatles cred. What he doesn’t have, apparently, is any plan to bring ELO closer to Buffalo than Toronto, where the band performed in August. So the appearance of Strange Magic: The ELO Experience at 8 p.m. Jan. 11 in the Riviera Theatre (67 Webster St., North Tonawanda) is that much more attractive. It doesn’t hurt that this seven-piece, strings-and-all, vocal-heavy ensemble truly nails Lynne’s “wall of sound” approach. ($20, Rivieratheatre.org)