Quick, what were the Beatles' first two singles? Where can you find the Quarrymen recording "In Spite of All the Danger"? When did Paul McCartney add "I've Got a Feeling" to his live show?
Normally, the answers to those sorts of questions wouldn't be readily available mid-concert. They were for me last Friday night, however, thanks to the man seated to my right, Southern Nevada's human Beatles encyclopedia, Dennis Mitchell.
Mitchell, who has produced syndicated radio show Breakfast with the Beatles for the past 14 years, joined me for the first of McCartney's two sold-out weekend shows at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, the fifth time Mitchell has seen Sir Paul in concert.
From the moment the 51-year-old Mitchell showed up wearing a denim Sgt. Pepper's jacket, I knew I was in for a treat, observing a truly dedicated fan in his most treasured environment. Mitchell has been Beatles-obsessed since 1964, even though he missed the band's first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show that year because his parents frowned on the phenomenon. He snuck over to a friend's house the next week for the Fab Four's second Sullivan stint, and his loyalty has never wavered.
A 30-minute pre-show DJ set of other artists' McCartney and Beatles covers was akin to torture for the impatient Mitchell, but his emotion turned to rapture when Paul's career-spanning warmup film began rolling on the stage's giant video screens.
McCartney followed opening number "Magical Mystery Tour" with something of a surprise, "Flaming Pie," a solo track from 1997. Mitchell's "Very nice!" made it clear that although "Hey Jude" and "Yesterday" are among his all-time favorites tunes, the man was really there for the less-celebrated nuggets McCartney would dig out.
And there were plenty of those: McCartney plucked "I'll Get You," "Till There Was You," "Fixing a Hole" and "I'll Follow the Sun" from the Beatles' catalog, and "Let Me Roll It" and "Too Many People" from his Wings days. Mitchell has a particular fondness for the latter period, having seen McCartney for the first time in 1976.
Mitchell made a dash from our floor seats for the bathroom during "The Long and Winding Road," but rocked out heartily to "I've Got a Feeling" and "Helter Skelter," the true hallmark of a serious Beatles aficionado.
But Mitchell is no McCartney apologist. "Fine Line," the first of four cuts from September solo album Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, drove the Las Vegan to his seat for the first time all night. Later, Mitchell noted that McCartney seems to have nicked music from "For No One" off of 1966's Revolver for another new song, "English Tea."
When an unusually conversational McCartney discussed his recent experience broadcasting two live numbers to the astronauts at the International Space Station, I already knew all about it, having been given the lowdown from Mitchell a few minutes before showtime. Excerpts from the spacey encounter made their way onto this week's Breakfast with the Beatles installment, which aired Sunday at 8 a.m. on KKLZ 96.3-FM and can be streamed through Saturday at www.beatlesradioshow.com.
At night's end, a glowing Mitchell announced the show was better than McCartney's 2002 MGM stopover, and he got no argument from me. Paul's voice and his four-piece band were in fine form, his approach was fun and casual and his set list was extremely well-chosen.
"Maybe next year he'll come back on the 'When I'm 64 tour,'" Mitchell said, noting McCartney will turn 64 next summer.
I left feeling as though I'd received a side order of history to go with the concert's main course of music. Which makes me wonder ... could I possibly find someone who knows as much about Merle Haggard in time for tonight's show at Boulder Station?
(And for those who are wondering, the answers to the questions at the top of this piece are: 1: "Love Me Do," then "Please Please Me"; 2: Anthology 1; 3: for the current tour.)