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Published: 2004/12/15
by Mike Greenhaus

American Tribute Center Presents The Fab Faux, Bowery Ballroom, New York, NY- 11/18

Like any cover band, The Fab Faux face a dual challenge: to respect their source subject's sound while simultaneously crafting a unique voice. At the same time, covering the Beatles in a live setting has always been an odd beast since, just as their popularity peaked, the Fab Four abruptly stopped touring. A sign of Beatlemania's burden, the Beatles' final concert outings took place just months into the Revolver-era, arguable the beginning of the group's true genius period.' While the group's road retirement allowed producer George Martin to advance the Beatles' recording sessions into full-on art, a large part of the Beatles core canon never has a chance to come alive on stage. Over the years, each of the former Beatles, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr especially, have brought the quartet's back-catalogue to the stage with various degrees of success. Yet, still, the legion of Beatles covers artists who have emerged since 1970 have had the unique challenge of recreating an experience which never really existed.

Among the best-known Beatles-tribute acts making the rounds through New York's club circuit, the Fab Faux is, in a sense, an all-star band itself. Featuring bassist Will Lee (of Late Show fame), guitarist Jimmy Vivino (of Late Night fame), as well as keyboardist Jack Petruzzelli (Joan Osborne, Rich Robinson, and Rufus Rainwrigh), drummer Rich Pagano (Patti Smith, Robbie Robertson, Ray Davies), and Frank Agnello (the Self-Righteous Brothers, Al Kooper). Instead of packaging the Beatles experience with a parade of costumes and era-specific themes, the Fab Faux aim to recapture the layered brilliance of the Beatles' years in studio seclusion. And, to their credit, the Fab Faux faired quite well mostly because they care more about recreating the Beatles' songs than their personalities.

Like the late night bands Lee and Vivino lead, the Fab Faux plays like a professional, retied jamband. Having cut their chops of jazz, funk, and classic rock covers, Lee and Vivino are capable of spewing jamband solos, but who now help score a carefully orchestrated talk show (which, for years, has allowed working folk to peer into late night culture party atmosphere). So, throughout the Fab Faux's set, one could help feeling a bit of restrain as the group ripped through a particularly psychedelic "Strawberry Fields Forever" and the extended outro of "A Day in the Life."

As a source subject, no band is more appropriate to the theme of this charity event than the Beatles. A non-profit organization dedicated to creating personalized books for families who lost loved ones on September 11, the American Tribute Center has held two music-themed fall fundraisers, the last of which starred Little Feat and Reid Genauer. The rock-outfit with the largest cross-generational appeal, the Beatles' music helped connect the various groups of people in attendance at the Bowery Ballroom this evening. In fact, the Beatles most important legacy may be their ability to greet even serious subjects with a comforting grin.

Perhaps the most interesting part of any Beatles tribute is how the group constructs its setlist. In an odd way, since the Beatles disbandment, certain tracks have blossomed into setlist fixtures because of the bands who've kept these tracks alive through their covers. An once often overlooked George Harrison White Album composition, "White My Guitar Gently Weeps" is a natural early show rocker, building from gentle piano to a rock. Similarly, the trippy "I am the Walrus" fits snugly mid set, when the Fab Faux were juiced up enough to get beneath the track's dark groove. Judging by how the shuffled their own early shows into a thirty-minute set, the Beatles would have, most likely, faded out their early, sunny hits by the time Sgt. Pepper rolled around. So it also makes sense that the Fab Faux remained relatively faithfully to the group's last five years, placing particular emphasis on the Beatle's rock oriented last three albums.

Instead of trying to recreate the Beatles experience with the same set of given tools, ala Dark Star Orchestra, the Fab Faux aimed took visual liberties to recreate the Beatles' sound. Using five different vocalists to cover four vocal parts, the Fab Faux managed to do justice to George Martin's complex voice tracks and hidden loops. Also, instead of appointing each Faux member a specific Beatles character Lee and Vivino, especially, were able to show of their own chops, and turning a sobering event into a sweaty, club party. And while more colorful acts such as 1964 or Strawberry Fields Forever emit a sense of childlike wonder the Fab Faux is grounded in the rock-solid reality of the Beatles' later days. And, given this event' loaded purpose, no band could have offered a more fitting soundtrack.

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