Concertgoers who visit the F.M. Kirby Center in Wilkes-Barre on Saturday will be treated to a note-perfect recreation of the music of The Beatles, down to every guitar lick, bass line, drum fill and obscure sound effect, courtesy of The Fab Faux, a five-piece collective of seasoned and accomplished musicians who have dedicated themselves to playing the Liverpool band’s music with total sonic accuracy. On Saturday, the centerpiece of their return engagement at the Kirby will be “A Hard Day’s Night,” The Beatles’ third album, released in 1964.
The Faux are bassist Will Lee, known for his work in David Letterman’s band; guitarist Jimmy Vivino, who led Conan O’Brien’s band and has worked with members of The Band, among other A-listers; drummer Rich Pagano, who has played with Rosanne Cash and Ray Davies of The Kinks; keyboardist Jack Petruzzelli, who’s worked with Joan Osborne, Patti Smith and Rufus Wainwright; and Frank Agnello, who also plays guitar and has worked with Marshall Crenshaw, Phoebe Snow and Joey Molland of Badfinger. All five Fab Faux members sing in the band.
Petruzzelli, whose vocal delivery of “Abbey Road” rocker “Oh Darling” has become a showstopper, played at the Kirby a few years ago with Osborne during a lobby show. He executive produced the singer/songwriter’s acclaimed 2017 album, “Songs Of Bob Dylan,” which he recorded at his studio in the Poconos, as well as her 2014 release, “Love and Hate.”
Petruzzelli, who keeps his main home in Brooklyn, recently chatted with us about the Beatles’ musicianship, why the Fab Faux has five members while the Beatles had four and why the group, unlike most of its counterparts, does not wear costumes.
Tell me how the band got started.
It all started with Will and Rich, who were on another gig. It wasn’t Beatles-related, but during soundcheck those guys kept playing Beatles songs together, and the artist whose gig it was was having fun to a certain point but said, “Why don’t you start a Beatles band?” Rich recruited me and Frank.
What was the intention when the band got started?
Well, because we’re all seasoned musicians and making a living in music, with Will and Jimmy with the TV shows and myself as a side guy and Frank as well, we wanted to do this music in a way that maybe some of the other bands hadn’t. There’s plenty of great Beatles bands out there, but I think we wanted to definitely approach it as classical music and we were reproducing Beethoven or Bach, like a string quartet learning the music as close to the records and also the sounds. Not only play the instruments, but have the exact specific instruments. … Our guitar arsenal could [be] in a museum. We have two drum sets for Rich for different eras. Will has four different basses from Paul’s career. We’re also tackling some of the more complicated material that maybe some other bands haven’t.
How did your appreciation of Beatles music change by learning these songs inside and out?
Mike, I tell you, to this day, the band is going on 20 years, and I just got done practicing, and we’re playing this weekend…certain things have gotten easier, but every time we get a chance to play, we say how can I do this better, whether it’s vocally or musically? As singalong as the music is and how simple it might seem, there is a complexity to that music.
Maybe because of their image as lovable moptops and some of the simpler earlier material, for as hugely popular as they are, do you think The Beatles might be underrated as musicians?
I would think they would be underrated as musicians in the eyes of people that don’t understand music. I think if you were to ask a seasoned jazz musician, they wouldn’t underrate their playing. Granted, John Lennon didn’t have the vocabulary of Bach or Beethoven, but it wasn’t the 1700s or 1800s. This is popular music that’s dealing with the masses in the 20th century. …
Some Beatles music has been redone by jazz greats, from Duke Ellington to Count Basie, from soul artists like Al Green to a number of different, well-respected jazz and classical artists because they recognize just the beauty of their melody and the chord progressions.
It would almost be like [discussing] Tchaikovsky, saying, “Oh yeah, well Bach was great, but he doesn’t have the harmonic complexity of Debussy or Tchaikovsky.”
So this tour you’re doing “A Hard Day’s Night” in its entirety. How do you go about choosing which material to perform for each tour?
Usually it’ll be the venue asking, “Hey, can you do a theme?” This past year we’ve been doing “Sgt. Pepper’s” quite a bit because it’s the 50th anniversary. Some shows we have strings and horns or just the 5-piece, like we’re doing in Wilkes-Barre, where we’re somewhat limited; we’re not going to do “Sgt. Pepper,” but we can certainly do “Rubber Soul” or “A Hard Day’s Night.”
What do you think of “A Hard Day’s Night”?
We just played it, and I was reminded what a joyous record that is. .. “A Hard Day’s Night” was their third record, and I think that’s a pivotal time that their writing had matured, but still in the realm of Beatles material there’s these songs that get the girls screaming. And the songwriting has graduated to another level, like “And I Love Her” and “If I Fell,” it still has that sort of happy, youthful Beatlemania.
The Beatles obviously didn’t have a dedicated keyboard player. Is there a lot more keyboard in their music than people realize?
Yeah, yeah, and I think that’s why we have five members. Because all those extra parts that are on the recordings that John Lennon or Paul McCartney would play on the piano, or all of the additional percussion that’s on the recordings, so yeah, I think an avid listener would notice. One of the cool things about coming to a Fab Faux show is people come up and say, “I didn’t realize all those things were happening in that song,” and they go home and have a new appreciation. Like the percussion in “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey” or the piano in “Any Time At All” or something like that.
What has the reaction been like from the Beatles camp?
We’ve had engineers that have worked with them, from Geoff Emerick to Ken Townsend, and we’ve had Cynthia Lennon and May Pang, people that have been involved in The Beatles’ inner circle, come to shows, and it’s been great, because from a technical point, we get an insight from Geoff Emerick and also get to hear from friends or ex-wives or former girlfriends.
When Will Lee first approached Paul McCartney more than a decade ago and said, “I have to tell you, I play in a Beatles tribute band,” his first question was, “Do you play ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’?” and Will said, “Yeah, as a matter of fact we do,” and Paul said, “Well, then you must be good.” We’ve gotten nice good luck cards from Yoko Ono when we played Radio City and other things like that.
What do you guys think of the Beatles tribute acts that wear costumes?
When we first started the band, it was hands-down that we wouldn’t do that. There’s nothing wrong with the bands that do that. We knew we couldn’t do that for a number of reasons, because we’re also in the business doing other things, number one, and we’re all in our 50s and 60s. I couldn’t imagine putting on a wig.
Are there any Beatles songs Fab Faux have not played?
We had this conversation last week. If I’m not mistaken, there are 211 recorded Beatles songs, and the only one we haven’t played is “Real Love.”
The Fab Faux will perform at the FM Kirby Center (71 Public Square, Wilkes-Barre, PA) on Saturday, Oct. 28 at 8 p.m. Tickets: $29.50-$79.50, plus fees. Info: http://www.kirbycenter.org/