Fab Faux returning to re-create Beatles' 'Sgt. Pepper' (and more) live on stage
They knew they didn’t want to wear the matching suits and mop-top wigs to represent the Beatles’ early years, or don the psychedelic gear of the 1967-’68 period.
“And we didn’t want to put on fake accents, or try to sing like the Beatles,” says Rich Pagano, the Faux’s drummer and one its singers.
“We weren’t looking to be a Broadway show, or a theme-park act. We were a bunch of session musicians in New York who were already making a pretty good living, and we wanted to do this in a way where some of our own personalities would come through, even as we were honoring the music—which we think of as modern classical music,” says Pagano, who joins his Faux mates at the Michigan Theater on Saturday for a show that will include the performance of “Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band” in its entirety.
Indeed, the Faux don’t perform note-for-note replications of the Beatles songs.
“We play the correct guitars and drums, and use the correct amps, and although we honor the originals, we sing like ourselves, and we do take a few liberties with the music—like, sometimes we’ll exaggerate the sonic bigness of the song, as a way of putting our own stamp on it. I think that allows people to enjoy the music on another level, instead of just closing their eyes and pretending it’s 1968.“And, a lot of letters we get are from people who talk about us as a band, which tells me they’re coming because they also enjoy us as a band, in addition to loving the Beatles' music, of course.”
Another factor that distinguishes the Faux from some of the aforementioned Beatles tribute bands is that the Faux, more often than not, focus on the music of the Beatles’ mid-to-late period—“from ‘Rubber Soul’ on,” says Pagano by phone from his studio in New York.
Not coincidentally, that’s the period when the Beatles stopped touring and began focusing exclusively on making records, which was one of the reasons they began creating more complex music, much of which was never intended to be performed live—at least not by the Beatles themselves. That was especially true of an album like “Sgt. Pepper’s,” in which the Beatles completely immersed themselves in studio experimentation and audio effects, like the use of backwards tapes and such.
“There were plenty of Beatles tribute bands doing the music from the early years, but we didn’t hear anyone getting into the intricacies of the later years,” says Pagano. “So when we put this together, we knew we had to also use horns and strings.” So, when they tour, the Faux take along the Cream Tangerine Strings and the four-piece Hogshead Horns to help them reproduce those intricate, latter-period studio orchestrations.
For the last several years, most Faux shows have been like the one they’ll do on Saturday, in that they play an album in its entirety, in addition to an assortment of other Beatles songs. In their previous Ann Arbor appearance, last spring, they did “Abbey Road,” start to finish, along with some of their other fave Fabs tunes.
“I think what we’ll do in Ann Arbor is build up to ‘Sgt. Pepper's’,” says Pagano. We’ll do a mixed set of various Beatles songs, then ‘Sgt. Pepper’s,” then a bunch of encores.” Pagano says the idea for the Fab Faux began when he and Will Lee—longtime bass player in the house band for “The Late Show with David Letterman”—were on tour in Europe with Hiram Bullock in 1997.
“At the time, it wouldn’t have occurred to me to put together a Beatles tribute band, even though I always loved their music, because they just seemed untouchable,” says Pagano. “But on that tour, Will and I got to talking about our Beatles bootlegs and outtakes collections, and how we incorporated the Beatles’ influences into our own playing.
“And then at sound check, Will remarked that I had my drums tuned similar to the way Ringo Starr tuned his drums, and we’d jam on some Beatles tunes. So when we got back to New York, Will called me and said, ‘Let’s start the greatest Beatles tribute band ever.’
“I said no at first, but I soon learned that no one ever says ‘no’ to Will Lee, because he would call me once a week, so after about a month of that, I said, ‘Okay, let’s do this, but we have to do it right.’”
When the Faux started out, it was more difficult to reproduce the complex studio orchestrations of the Beatles’ later work, says Pagano—“because back in the ‘60s, they were limited to just four tracks, so we didn’t have the singular tracks to listen to. But now, the actual ‘virgin’ tapes are out there, so it’s easier now to hear what we’ve been doing right and what we’ve been doing wrong, and adjust accordingly.”
These days, the most difficult thing is “jumping from station to station” onstage, says Pagano. “When we set up onstage, I’ve got two drum kits—one tuned to the way Ringo tuned his drums in the early years, and then another kit tuned the way he tuned them in the later years. So I switch back and forth between kits, depending on the song.
“And, a lot of us switch instruments from song to song, like Frank will go from guitar to a sampler, or Jack will move from one keyboard to another. So, we’re pretty active up there.”