courtesy of The Fab Faux
The Fab Faux, clockwise from top left: Jimmy Vivino, Will Lee, Frank Agnello, Jack Petruzzelli, Richard Pagano.
In 1966, a British reporter stopped Paul McCartney outside of Abbey Road studio in London and asked him why The Beatles were no longer touring. "If you never toured again," the reporter asked, "would it worry you?"
"Ah, I don't know," McCartney replied. "No, I don't think so. Because we can't develop when no one can hear us. You know what I mean? So for us, to perform, it's difficult. We want to do it, but if we're not listened to, and we can't even hear ourselves, then we can't improve in that. We can't get any better."
Perhaps it was just as well that The Beatles stopped performing publicly, given the constant screaming and the limitations presented by the technology of the day. Much of the music they recorded after 1966 couldn't be re-created onstage anyway.
"They had a disadvantage," says Frank Agnello, who sings and plays guitar in the New York City-based Beatles tribute band The Fab Faux. "Back then, they didn't really have the technology to bring some of those studio ideas to the stage. Right before the Sgt. Pepper sessions is where The Beatles decided to become a recording band."
A 'Beatles Records' Tribute Band
Agnello's band focuses on the songs of The Beatles, but don't expect matching suits, shaggy haircuts, or Liverpool accents.
"Well, a lot of the bands who play Beatles music, they go more for the theatrical bent, and there's an acting component," Agnello says. "We concentrate more on the records, I would say. In a way, we're a 'Beatles records' tribute band."
"On our level, it was to try to see if we could get all these great textures that The Beatles had on their records," Fab Faux bassist Will Lee says. "For instance, percussion parts, keyboard parts, [and] doubling the vocals. When you do see a four-piece look-alike band, you don't really get the satisfaction of hearing all those great textures that the records have."
Attention to Detail
The Fab Faux's members are all full-time musicians and singers who remain active in the music industry. Lee can be seen on late-night TV as part of the David Letterman band, Agnello is an in-demand music producer and sideman, and the other members are noted session men and producers. With guitarists Jimmy Vivino and Jack Petruzzelli, and drummer Richard Pagano, The Fab Faux is a collective that's about attention to detail.
That includes having a real string section with it on "Yesterday." Or a real piccolo trumpet to play the famous solo on "Penny Lane," or even a fire-truck bell in the same tune — especially impressive considering that the band does all of this while in live performance. The Fab Faux's collective talent makes it possible for the band to take apart The Beatles' music, and then put it back together again — a process that Agnello describes as "really nerdy."
"We'll keep researching and alter stuff," Lee says. "It's a never-ending tweakage on this music."
Not everything The Fab Faux does is about faithful re-creation.
"Take, for example, 'Drive My Car,'" Lee says. "It doesn't have an ending; it has a fade, as records often do. Wouldn't it be great to bring to the stage what the song would have sounded like had it continued on into a nice jam? We have such good players in this band that it would be a waste not to let somebody take a solo."
Not long ago, Lee actually got a chance to play with Paul McCartney — and felt he had to come clean about The Fab Faux.
"I approached him," Lee says, "and said, 'Look, I know that you have a history of low tolerance for Beatles [cover] bands, but I have to admit I do have a little tribute band. We focus on the later stuff — the stuff that's harder.' So he kinda challenged me and said, 'Do you do "Tomorrow Never Knows"?'
"And I said, 'Oh, of course. That was one of the first ones we learned.'"
Because The Beatles stopped performing before the band recorded Sgt. Pepper, it never had the chance to perform its most carefully crafted music live. What The Fab Faux does is take away that historical oversight and make it possible to hear what could have been.
Ashley Kahn is the author of A Love Supreme: The Story of John Coltrane's Signature Album. You can learn more about the Fab Faux and find their concert schedule at NPR.org.