DC at Night

DC at Night

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Fab Four or Fab Faux?

The Fab Faux have the hardest job in the history of rock and roll and they pull it off damn well. All rock bands want to be like the Beatles; these guys have the nerve to BE the Beatles. Amazingly, they're so good at it you learn new things about the originals.
                                                                                            --- Dave Marsh
      Legendary rock critic and Sirius XM radio host

Can a copy be as good as (or, in some cases, even better than) an original? That is a question for the ages in the arts and nowhere in the arts is that question bigger than in music, especially in rock with its reworked cover versions and tribute bands.

Which leads us to an examination of the relationship between the Beatles and the Fab Faux (a takeoff on one of the original Beatles nicknames, the Fab Four). Of course, you know who the Beatles are. But who are the Fab Faux? Well, they are 5 of the best New York City-based session musicians in music today. If you watch late-night TV you are probably familiar with at least 2 of them. Bass player Will Lee has spent 2 decades as the nightly bassist on The Late Show with David Letterman. Guitarist Jimmy Vivino is the musical director for The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien. They are joined by drummer Rich Pagano, keyboardist Jack Petruzelli, and guitarist Frank Agnello. Individually, the five have performed with a series of stars that reads like a list from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. James Brown. Aretha Franklin. Ray Charles. Diana Ross. The Bee Gees. Carly Simon. Billy Joel. Steely Dan. Ray Davies. Levon Helm. Mick Jagger.

Sixteen years ago, Vivino and Lee kicked around the idea of forming a band to recreate the Beatles sound as they rode up an elevator together in a New York City building. Since that day, The Fab Faux, acknowledged by almost all major rock critics to be the greatest Beatles band ever not named the Beatles, has grown from a quickly tossed-off idea to a sometimes touring band that has headlined the annual International Beatles Festival in Liverpool 4 times.

And this weekend, they appeared at The Birchmere in Arlington for 2 sold-out shows. At the 1st, they performed the Beatles Rubber Soul album in its entirety. On the 2nd night, they performed 30 Beatles tunes in a show billed as From the Cavern to the Roof.

We attended the 1st show, and if we hadn't had a prior commitment, I would have definitely been back for the 2nd. Of course, the main highlight was hearing the songs of Rubber Soul performed as they appeared on the album. Like the rest of the enthusiastic crowd, many of whom, like me, had been introduced to the magic of the Beatles on a February night in 1964 when John, Paul, George and Ringo 1st appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, the powerful, faithful reproductions on stage evoked memories not only of Beatles moments, but of a time now long gone. With "Michelle" I was back in Capt. Bill's fried seafood diner in my small South Jersey town with my Dad, who was introducing me to french fries and gravy as the song played on the 5-songs-for-a-quarter jukebox. Or, with "Norwegian Wood," there I was, a 12-year-old  sitting alone in my bedroom, trying to figure out the mysterious complexities of love with my 1st girlfriend, Vera, and wondering if she would ever make me crawl off to sleep in the bath.

As the Fab Faux played, I couldn't help but reflect on Dave Marsh's quote that I used to start this post. Marsh is absolutely right. You really do learn new things about the originals hearing them live in the 21st Century. It's almost like hearing a song played 1st on a tiny transistor radio (which actually was the case in the 1960's) and then replayed on a modern, multi-speaker, surround-sound, home entertainment system.

After completing Rubber Soul to raucous applause and even some Beatle-era screams and shrieks, the band took a short break before returning to stage. "Well, the pressure's off. Now let's rock," Lee said, as the group, propelled by Pagano's driving drum beat, then proceeded to perform an incredible 18-song set of Beatles classics from "Back in the USSR" to the show-closer "Let It Be." There were many highlights. I will  list just 3. There was the performance of the rarity "All I've Got to Do" from With the Beatles (one of my 5 favorite early Beatles' songs). There was a snippet of the garage rock classic "Gloria" which Vivino threw into an extended ride in "Day Tripper (definitely my favorite Beatle track from their middle period). And finally, there was an ethereal, extended version of George Harrison's great contribution to The White Album "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" that was so masterful and haunting that I am getting shivers from the memory as I write this sentence.

The Fab Faux then again left the stage, only to return a final time for a 2-song encore. First up, was a 10-minute version of John Lennon's "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey." The song began with Lee, looking like a hippie-dressed, blonde haired cross between comedian Andy Dick and Detective John Munch from the TV series Law and Order, skipping in time to the opening guitar/bass riff. As the song continued, Lee eventually leapt from the stage, prancing and dancing around the Birchmere club like a dervish caught in the magic of the music.

The final encore selection was "Twist and Shout," which the masterful Bruce Springsteen has been using for years as a show closer for his powerful E Street Band performances. You know, they say you can't turn back time. They say you can't go home again. But they are wrong. The music of your youth can be a time machine. Suddenly, we were no longer in the Birchmere. It was The Cavern or whatever they called the dark, sweaty club for music in your city. And it was no longer 2013. It was 1963 or '64 or '65. It was as if the Diet Coke I had been sipping all night had been poured from the illusive Fountain of Youth. I wasn't 61; I was 16. It was a new beginning ... life stretched before us ... all things were possible. As the notes of the final encore faded, the crowd, now completely twisted and shouted out, used their remaining energy to send one last message. Long live the music of the Beatles. And thanks to The Fab Faux for reminding us just how meaningful that music was, is, and will always be.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
For those of you who weren't lucky enough to hear the Fab Faux at The Birchmere, here is the track list for their Rubber Soul set:

Side One
  1. Drive My Car
  2. Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)
  3. You Won't See Me
  4. Nowhere Man
  5. Think for Yourself
  6. The Word
  7. Michelle
Side Two
  1. What Goes On
  2. Girl
  3. I'm Looking Through You
  4. In My Life
  5. Wait
  6. If I Needed Someone
  7. Run for Your Life
  • To see The Beatles 1st performance in America on The Ed Sullivan Show and either relive the moment or see what all the fuss was about, click here.
  • To see the Fab Faux perform "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," in 2003 click here.
  • One final musical note: If you are a Beatles' fan in the DC area,you might want to keep your calendar flexible. Pagano promised that The Fab Faux would be back. And he hinted that they might offer the entire White Album. Of course, that would definitely leave all the DC Dear Prudences, Sexie Sadies, Bungalow Bills, and Rocky Raccoons happier than John Lennon's satirical warm gun.

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