Review: Barb Jungr & John McDaniel 'Come Together' To Perform Iconic Beatles Songs With Eloquence, Sincerity, and Freshness at Feinstein's/54 Below

By: Oct. 29, 2015
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Barb Jungr has us in the first 60 seconds, literally reaching out, locking eyes with her audience as she agitates across the stage at Feinstein's/54 Below. Locomotion seems organic, spontaneous. The arm without the microphone shoots up because it must; fingers snap, hips shift--it's a Frug! I was alone, I took a ride, I didn't know what I would find there . . . we're caught in a story, in the intensity of the artist's complete focus. Suddenly one realizes the number is familiar--it's "Got To Get You Into My Life," the first of an evening's worth of iconic Beatles songs (in a show called Come Together) on which many of us cut our teeth, part of the very fiber of a collective past.

Having in past shows reintroduced us to Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, Jungr again helps us hear material we know by heart, as if for the first time. (She's supported on piano and occasional harmony by co-arranger and sometime Broadway Musical Director John McDaniel, who is Artistic Director of the O'Neill Theater Center's Cabaret Conference.) Raised a mere 40 miles from Liverpool where the boys first made their mark, Jungr was aware of the band before they exploded onto the rest of the world. She reflects on the fact theirs may have been the first blatantly public lives of a musical group. The British exulted in McCartney's romance with the pretty Jane Asher, cursed the arrival of "that Japanese performance artist" (Lennon's eventual wife, Yoko Ono, thought by many to have broken up the group), and reinterpreted lyrics based on newsworthy use of drugs.

Someday when I'm lonely/Wishing you weren't so far away/Then I will remember/Things we said today . . .("Things We Said Today"). Jungr has what I can only call a forcibly controlled waver in her vocals. It's more visceral than vibrato. Her elastic musicality loops out, retreats, changes octaves with the grace of skating, rasps and then grows folky sweet. That which was indelible in the quartet's highly recognizable style, morphs into R & B, blues, torch, folk, songbook ballad.

You'll never hear an "Eleanor Rigby" like this one. Lyrics stretch like taffy. She sings "hall" instead of "all," exhaling the word from her gut. The song is anguished, a quiet salute to all the unknown soldiers in and out of war. Acapella lines cut deep. "In My Life" arrives with much the same surprising impact, this one sentimental, moving, universal.

A medley of "And I Love Her," All My Loving," and "All You Need Is Love" appears with earnestness originally diminished by pop bounce; the first perhaps by a teenage girl wracked with first feelings, the second as if a soldier's letter home to his sweetheart, the last, backed by waltzy piano, as if preaching to a congregation, aware that when one is quiet, the back row pays attention. Gravitas doesn't weigh these down, it makes them more meaningful.

Music box piano accompanies "The Fool On The Hill." And the eyes in his head/See the world spinning around . . . audibly circles so clearly, it's almost visible. Jungr looks up, gently swaying. The tune conjures lying on the grass picking shapes out of clouds. It's languid and rather magical. This is followed with a whomp by "Something" (in the way she moves . . . ) as performed by a heart carried away--movement is expansive, eurhythmic--and then "The Long and Winding Road" which erupts with life like a sparkler.

Jungr calls "Come Together" one of the show's definite highlights, "a triumphant celebration of the power of drugs . . . If you're thinking did I miss anything, at the end of this you might think no or--that you missed a lot of fun." It's sassy, sultry, insidious, challenging, nonsensical fun. The performer is as dynamic as they come. She takes the audience on that trip. We all end up singing Come together, yeah, rhythmically clapping her offstage. Jungr works her way sinuously through the tables like some ancient temple dancer, devotee, and celebrant. Sybil?

The arrangements by Jungr and McDaniel are iconoclastic and terrific, though all the heavy lifting in this show is done by vocals. One caveat--though stripping away dross lets the numbers glow, despite Jungr's penetrating vocals and unique charisma, the sound in a large space like Feinstein's/54 Below comes across as a bit thin without additional accompanists. One might suggest percussion and a cello for a richer sound.

Barb Jungr and John McDaniel will again perform Come Together: The Music of the Beatles at Feinstein's/54 Below on October 30, 7 pm; October 31, 7 pm; January 13, 7 pm and 9:30 pm; January 14, 7 pm.

Photos by Lou Montesano/Still Rock Photography