Shows I’ll Never Forget: The Fab Faux, November 9, 2013

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At the Chicago Theatre: The phrase “Beatles tribute band” usually conjures images of costumes, bad wigs, and even worse pseudo-Liverpudlian accents. The Fab Faux shatters that stereotype with their serious approach to celebrating the Beatles’ music, eschewing costumes and light shows for pure musicianship. Their November 9 show at the Chicago Theatre demonstrated their dedication to treating these songs with respect, but still having fun and exciting the audience.

For 15 years, top session men Will Lee (also known as David Letterman’s bassist), Rich Pagano (drums and vocals), Frank Angello (guitars and vocals), Jimmy Vivino (guitar and vocals), and Jack Petruzzelli (keyboards and vocals) have bonded over their mutual love of the Beatles. On their occasional tours, they choose a general theme that determines their song list; this show was titled “All the Beatles’ Greatest Hits,” and they did just that, performing key tracks in chronological order. From the opening number, “Please Please Me,” the Fab Faux members absolutely nailed the Beatles’ complex harmonies. While the members’ voices cannot duplicate the originals, they successfully imitated the style and phrasing. For example, Lee effectively emulated Paul McCartney’s energetic vocals on the Fab Faux’s rendition of “I Saw Her Standing There.”

As the concert progressed, the Fab Faux demonstrated how the Beatles’ rapidly developed songwriting sophistication. The opening chord of “A Hard Day’s Night” still sounds revolutionary, and the group’s recreation of the feedback from “I Feel Fine” signals the Beatles’ growing experimentation. Aided by a small string section entitled “Cream Tangerine,” the group turned in a lovely and faithful version of “Yesterday” (note to Paul McCartney: bring a string section, no matter how small, on your next tour. The sound makes a huge difference). Throughout the show the Fab Faux members would banter with the audience and among themselves, creating the effect of watching good friends jam together. Their wry humor appeared throughout, with Lee dedicating “We Can Work It Out” to Capitol Hill.

Surprising the crowd, Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen joined the group for a tear-the-roof-off rendition of “Daytripper.” Son Daxx Nielsen accompanied the Fab Faux on drums; having two drummers driving the beat added a hard-rocking edge to a classic tune.

The second half of the show focused on the latter half of the Beatles’ career, beginning with “Nowhere Man.” While the Fab Faux carefully recreated the original sounds — complete with playing the same instruments as the Beatles used — they prove how relevant the songs remain. Adding an extra guitar solo to “Paperback Writer,” for example, underscored just how hard the Beatles could rock. More friends assisted the Fab Faux on a rousing “Yellow Submarine,” namely the Hogshead Horns (another note to McCartney: also include a horn section on your next tour). At one point, the horn players inserted a New Orleans-reminiscent break, lending the track a particularly festive air. A Hogshead Horns member later perfectly executed the trumpet solo from “Penny Lane,” evoking enthusiastic applause from the crowd.

While the show contained many highlights, the most powerful moment was arguably “Strawberry Fields Forever,” a track the Beatles never performed live. Hearing this groundbreaking song in person, complete with strings, is quite an astounding experience. The Fab Faux’s secret weapon, Pagano, astonished the crowd by singing lead while executing Ringo Starr’s complicated drumming style. The group even played the original “fake ending,” fading in and out. At the end, Lee laid down his bass and joined Pagano on drums, both of them pounding so hard that one could feel vibrations in the floor. Any band that can convincingly play “Strawberry Fields Forever” live deserves respect, and the Fab Faux’s thunderous rendition resonated long after the concert ended.

Rick and Daxx Nielsen returned for “Get Back,” with the Cheap Trick guitarist trading licks with other Fab Faux members. They briefly segued into “The End,” gradually returning to the original song. The duo remained for “The Ballad of John and Yoko,” a track rarely heard today on the radio. It was a treat to hear it live, with Pagano nicely capturing Lennon’s sarcastic words and delivery. “These guys are great!” Rick announced as he bounded offstage.

For the encore, the band nodded to the Nielsens by covering “Surrender,” which excited the heavily local crowd. As they concluded with “Yer Blues,” obviously deviating from the “greatest hits” theme, one could see how much these musicians enjoy playing together and reveling in their shared love of the Beatles’ music. As Lee said, “We take this seriously. This is our classical music.”

Those looking for slickly produced shows with visual effects and costumes may not appreciate the Fab Faux’s no-frills approach. However, many Beatles fans will find their reverence for the music refreshing, and their renditions faithful but not simply reproductions. Imagine attending a casual party, and some of your friends (who happen to be accomplished musicians) decide to jam, just for fun. That scenario encapsulates the spirit of a Fab Faux concert, an opportunity for fans and the band to gather to appreciate some of the greatest music in rock history.

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Kit O'Toole

Kit O'Toole

Kit O'Toole is a lifelong music enthusiast who maintains a stand-alone music blog called Listen to the Band. In addition, she is the internet columnist and a contributing editor for Beatlefan magazine. She also holds an Ed.D. in Instructional Technology. Contact Something Else! at
Kit O'Toole
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