Fab Faux returning, this time to re-create the music of the Beatles' 'White Album'
But the Faux are not a mere Beatles "tribute" band, like Beatlemania, or 1964 or Rain. Those groups focus(ed) on mimicking the Beatles' live shows (or videos) of the early / mid-1960s—with an emphasis on mop-top haircuts (or wigs), vintage early-'60s suits, psychedelic "Sgt Pepper's"-era regalia, and fake Brit accents—and less emphasis on the Beatles' actual recordings.
The Faux don't go in for any of that. They don't dress up like the Beatles, and they talk and sing in their own voices—they don't "pretend" to be the Beatles onstage. Instead, they have a laser-like focus on reproducing the Beatles' songs, the way they were recorded.
And, the members of the Faux are more musically accomplished than those tribute bands. When they formed the Faux in 1998, all of them were already in-demand studio musicians—and two were already members of high-profile "late-night bands." By then, bassist Will Lee had been a member of David Letterman's house band for about 15 years, and guitarist Jimmy Vivino had been in Conan O'Brien's house band for six years.
Lee still plays in the Letterman band, and Vivino is now the musical director for O'Brien's current talk show. The Faux also includes drummer / primary lead singer Rich Pagano (Rosanne Cash, Patti Smith, Ray Davies, etc.), guitarist Frank Agnello (Marshall Crenshaw, Phoebe Snow, etc.) and keyboardist/guitarist Jack Petruzzelli (Joan Osborne Band, Rufus Wainwright).Actually, all are multi-instrumentalists, so depending on the show, a few of the members may switch instruments from song to song. And Pagano has two drum kits onstage—one tuned the way Ringo Starr tuned his drums during the Beatles' early years, and the other tuned in the manner that Starr preferred in the mid-to-late '60s.
So, the Faux have always taken great pride in painstakingly replicating those world-changing Beatles tracks—many of which were never even played live by the Beatles, because they quit touring in 1966. Once the Beatles got off the road, the music on their subsequent albums became more sophisticated and innovative—and employed more experimental studio effects and sound collages.
"Yeah, our goal has always been to bring the recordings to the stage," says Lee, who joins his Faux-mates for a show at the Michigan Theater on Saturday. This is the third year in a row the Faux will play Ann Arbor, and the first time they will play "The Beatles" (more commonly known as "The White Album") in its entirety for an Ann Arbor audience.
"Whereas, the tribute bands were more concerned with imitating the live shows of the Beatles early era. And, during that era, as exciting as the Beatles were onstage, those live shows were not necessarily the Beatles at their best"—because the screaming of the fans, especially young girls, was so loud and piercing that the Beatles famously complained that they couldn't even hear themselves play.
"They knew that that the best they had to offer was in situations where they had the most control over the music, which was in the studio," says Lee by phone from his home in New York City, after a recent taping of the Letterman show. "Once they quit touring, they could spend more time crafting those more complex arrangements and gorgeous textures."
Helping the Faux replicate the more orchestrated songs onstage are the Creme Tangerine Strings and the four-piece Hogshead Horns.
"The White Album" is one of the most challenging, and therefore most satisfying, to re-create onstage, because as any Beatles fan knows, it ranks just behind "Sgt. Pepper's" in terms of its use of effects and multiple sonic layers.
"We need about as many people onstage to play 'The White Album' as we do 'Sgt. Pepper's,'" says Lee. "That album has so much going on—like, there's a recorder on 'Glass Onion,' and orchestral stuff on 'Goodnight'.....Our sound check when we do 'The White Album' is our most intensive—it's about three hours long."
Pagano isn't the only singer in the group—the other members also handle lead vocals on some songs. Among the "The White Album" tunes that Lee most enjoys singing are "Blackbird," "Mother Nature's Son," and "I Will," he says. Other Fab faves that he loves to sing include "Here Comes The Sun," "It Won't Be Long," "Another Girl," "She's Leaving Home," "Hold Me Tight"....."There are so just so many!" he says.
Lee says that Walter Everett, a University of Michigan professor of music theory and a writer, has been a great resource for them. Everett wrote "The Beatles As Musicians: The Quarry Men through Rubber Soul" and "The Beatles As Musicians: Revolver through the Anthology."
"Those books have helped us in terms of making sure what guitars and amplifiers the Beatles used on which songs, which we're very attentive to," says Lee. "That also helps us to faithfully recreate the songs, by playing the same guitar through the same amp that they played on specific songs."
Lee has performed live with Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Starr, and also played on a song on Starr's 1976 "Rotogravure" album that featured a piano track that had been pre-recorded by John Lennon. "I overdubbed the bass part, and played along to the tape of John's piano, which I was hearing through my headphones," he recalls. "So, I never met John, but I feel like I got to play with him."
Kevin Ransom, a free-lance writer who covers music for AnnArbor.com, previously wrote about the Fab Faux in 2011 and 2012. He can be reached at KevinRansom10@aol.com.