So you think you’ve seen every Beatles tribute band worth seeing? Think again!
By Jon Liebman
March 15, 2011
If you’ve never seen the Fab Faux in concert, you don’t know what you’re missing. Far from being “just another Beatles tribute band,” the Fab Faux, conceived and led by David Letterman bassist Will Lee, does an outstanding job, not only in recreating the music of the Beatles, but in rendering a full-scale Beatles experience. When I made plans to attend Saturday night’s Fab Faux show in Ann Arbor, MI, I was expecting nothing less than a great show performed by A-list musicians. That’s what I got, all right. That and a whole lot more.
When the idea first came to him to form a Beatle band, Will’s first call was to drummer and fellow Beatle-maniac Rich Pagano. Ever committed to complete authenticity in every regard, Will realized right away that it would take more than just four people to do the music justice, citing the need for “percussion parts doubled, vocals, extra keyboard parts, cool textures and stuff,” he says. They needed to make a band that would be, according to Will, “way more interesting than just having people dress up and pretend to be the Beatles and having the music itself taking a back seat to that.” Completing the core band are multi-instrumentalists Jimmy Vivino (musical director of the Conan O’Brien show), Frank Agnello and Jack Petruzzelli.
The show I experienced began with a succession of Beatle favorites, covering a wide swath of tunes from the early days (anybody remember “Anna”?) through the middle years (“Lady Madonna,” “Got to Get You Into My Life”) and on toward the later releases (“Strawberry Fields”). They even performed some of the more challenging vocal arrangements I don’t think even the Beatles performed live very often, including “Nowhere Man” and “Paperback Writer,” all sung remarkably in tune.
Throughout the course of the show, it seemed that every band member played just about every instrument, swapping guitars, keyboards and percussion instruments, all without batting an eye (Will even took a turn at the drums!). The band’s ever-diligent crew, part of an entourage of some seventeen or so people, was always at the ready, running on and off the stage after virtually every song with tuned up guitars, basses, etc., never missing a beat.
It became immediately apparent that the Fab Faux doesn’t scrimp on anything needed to produce the full-scale Beatles experience, never cutting any corners. I was surprised to see actual string players, the Creme Tangerine Strings, they’re called, made up of seasoned professionals Amy Kimball on violin and Sibel Finn on cello. Without them, “Eleanor Rigby,” “I Am the Walrus” and many of the other tunes just wouldn’t have been the same, had they been relegated to synths and samplers! Also unexpected was the four-man horn section, including trumpeter John Chudoba, whose impeccable, high-pitched solo on “Penny Lane” was flawless and absolutely brilliant! Yet another highlight was Jimmy Vivino’s guitar work, as he traded phrases with a recording of George Harrison singing “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” which was quite powerful and moving.
During the second set, the band performed the Abbey Road album in its entirety. Throughout the performance, though we all knew what songs were coming up next, the Faux kept the music fresh, taking full advantage, once again, of real strings and real horns, as well as very effective use of electronics (particularly at the end of “I Want You/She’s So Heavy”). Another noteworthy event came by way of Jack Petruzzelli’s passionate vocals on “Oh, Darling,” a real show-stopper.
The encore, featuring “I Saw Her Standing There” (with Will switching to a Hofner-style “Beatle bass”) had the crowd on its feet, with everyone dancing and singing along. The show closed with “Hey Jude,” the obligatory “Na-na-na-na” refrain sung by all.
Upon congratulating Will after the show, I told him how the whole experience was so much more than I expected. He just shrugged, smiled and said, “We’re in the business.” While the original conception of the band was just for a one-time-only show, it proved to be so much fun, the guys just kept doing it. Today, the Fab Faux is approaching its 14th year. “I’m kind of proud of us,” says Will, “because, in New York, it’s really hard to have five guys agree on something for that long!”