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The Weeklings: More than a tribute, it’s like a live performance of the Beatles

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    Scan this photo with the Prindeo app to watch a video of The Weeklings performing and recording “Love Can” at Abbey Road Studios in London. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Published October 04. 2018 11:16AM

If you could travel back in time and listen to The Beatles perform live, would you? What if they had plenty of new, original material but still had that unique Beatles’ sound, would you go? What if you didn’t even need a time machine?

Pretty sweet, huh?

That’s all possible — more or less — thanks to the musicianship and creativity of an entirely different “Fab Four” — The Weeklings.

The band is coming to Jim Thorpe Friday to perform at the Mauch Chunk Opera House. Show time is 8 p.m.

The Weeklings includes Glen Burtnik (Lefty Weekling) on Hofner bass (just like Paul McCartney played in the early days); Bob Burger (Zeek Weekling) on rhythm guitar; John Merjave (Rocky Weekling) on lead guitar; and Joe Bellia (Smokestack Weekling) on drums. All but Bellia are founding members of the band, with Bellia replacing original drummer Rambling Dave Weekling, who Burtnik explains they lost in a bizarre gardening accident.

All band members contribute to vocals.

We spoke with Burtnik, who has long been entrenched in the music of The Beatles, having re-created the role of Paul McCartney in the West Coast production of the Broadway smash “Beatlemania” in 1978. Also notable, Burtnik has been a member of Styx and The Orchestra (a rock band formed of members of Electric Light Orchestra and ELO Part II) and has written numerous chart-toppers, including “Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough,” recorded by Patty Smyth and Don Henley.

In addition to his regular gigs over the years, Burtnik continued to pay tribute to The Beatles.

“For years I had presented my annual ‘Beatle Bash’ shows in which I assembled a cast to perform complete Beatles’ albums song by song and pretty much note for note,” says Burtnik. “When we did ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,’ we needed an orchestra. Doing the ‘White Album’ required an orchestra and a choir. Big productions with lots of people on stage.

“The year the show celebrated the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ first two albums we realized, with very few exceptions, all those songs were recorded essentially by four musicians without many overdubs. This was music arranged for a quartet, and we enjoyed the simplicity of performing thrilling music as a four piece. We liked it so much we decided to become a band.”

Hence, The Weeklings were born.

Unlike most tribute bands, The Weeklings have taken their performance of Beatles music to another level by writing and recording new songs that retain the sound, feel and harmonies of the original quartet with uncanny and thrilling accuracy. It’s as if they’ve stumbled upon a trunk full of hits that The Beatles just never got around to recording. (Actually, they have, and they’ve recorded some of those as well.)

For those of us with no musical background, that ability is mind-blowing.

“One develops an ear for picking apart arrangements, harmonies, etc. from years of being a musician,” says Burtnik. “It becomes a challenge finding things your fellow players hadn’t yet noticed. And it’s not only informative but educational. You can apply tricks you’ve learned from others based on their art.”

However they do it, it works.

Writing for The Weeklings are Burger, Merjave and Burtnik, although he says that they go through a meticulous arrangement process, which includes “Smokestack.”

“It’s very much a democratic quartet,” says Burtnik.

The Weeklings currently have three CDs: “The Weeklings: Monophonic,” which was released in March 2015 and includes two songs by Burtnik and Burger; “Studio 2,” which was released in November 2016; and “Live at Darryl’s House,” released in November 2017.

The “Studio 2” CD was recorded at Abbey Road in London in June 2016 where The Beatles recorded almost all of their albums.

“It was a dream of mine to record at the studio — in the very same room — so many of my favorite records were cut in,” said Burtnik.

“In order to fly the band to London and record at this world-class studio, we launched a crowdfunding campaign which turned out very successful. Thanks to our fans, who contributed handsomely (and received special benefits in return) we could afford achieving this dream.”

The experience was one Burtnik was able to cross off his bucket list.

“We were working in a historic room we were very aware of and the vibe was surreal. For us — four guys who’ve lived our lives very aware of that studio, the layout, and even the equipment used on those great Beatles records, we were beside ourselves. It was a thrill. At the same time, we had an album to record — we couldn’t just be ‘tourists,’” says Burtnik.

“Another thing added to the experience was the underlying knowledge that along with our own songs, we were recording previously unrecorded songs written by The Beatles which they hadn’t got around to recording. Crazy stuff.

“It was about the most fun any Beatle-geek musician could possibly have.”

Like Burtnik, who is in five other acts these days, including The Orchestra, Max Weinberg’s Jukebox and the Summer of Love Concert Experience; the other band members are active in other musical projects or as solo artists.

Burger (Zeek) has his “Ever Changing Band” and often does tributes (Tom Petty, Fleetwood Mac). Bellia (Smokestack) has toured with Jon Bon Jovi, Dave Mason, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes and others.

Merjave (Rocky) plays with Burtnik in Liverpool, having appeared at the BeatleFest conventions for decades as well as the Live And Let Die (Paul McCartney Tribute) and a number of other tribute shows.

The Mauch Chunk Opera House is located at 14 W. Broadway in Jim Thorpe. To reserve tickets or for more information, call 570-325-0249. Tickets can be purchased online at MCOHJT.COM; at Sound Check Records at 570-325-4009 or in person at 23 Broadway in downtown Jim Thorpe; or at the opera house on the day of the performance. Parking is recommended downtown at the Carbon County Municipal Lot behind the train station.

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