Oct 242008

The recent discussion of the Abbey Road medley and my ability to slowly appreciate it thanks to the “communion” of seeing it performed by a lame, local Beatles cover band at my town’s annual July 4th fireworks extravaganza reminded me of this post. Feel free to think beyond issues of The Beatles and their cover bands, if you like. Feel free to think about the concept of Rock Communion. Wasn’t that a big part of the allure of the Dead? Have you ever taken Rock Communion?

This post initially appeared 6/22/07.

For my recent birthday my brother bought me 2 tickets to see The Fab Faux play at The Bowery Ballroom in New York. The Fab Faux is a Beatles cover band led by longtime, lanky Letterman bassist Will Lee and Conan guitarist Jimmy Vivino. My brother knows what makes me tick. Although he’s aware of my multitude of hang-ups, he rightly ignores them and helps steer me toward the path of pure pleasure now and then. So he had no worries about sending me off to see a show in which I’d be faced with the second- or third-most annoying member of the Letterman band. He had no worries about my fear that the whole thing would be as bad as I imagine that Cirque du Soleil thing must be. A pointy guitar or a strap-on synth never entered his mind. To him, this was about a Beatles fan and the music of The Beatles.

When I heard about this gift coming my way, I got myself in a very positive frame of mind, so much so that I was able to talk my wife, who can be as critical as yours truly, into a decent state of mind. For one thing, we’d get some time to ourselves in a favorite spot in New York, Soho. The theater was a mere few blocks away from our favorite restaurant, Balthazar, which we hit a few times a year. Traffic from Philadelphia to the Holland Tunnel complied with our mid-day departure plan, and we readily found street parking. The only thing that didn’t go perfectly right leading up to the show was my not seeing Kyle MacLachlan, who my wife spotted crossing a street. I got a look at him from the back, and his hair was long and dyed light brown. He must have looked a lot like his Ray Manzarek character from the front. Damn!

Regrets? I had one.

As we waited for the band to come out, I explained to my wife that this show could only be fun. A crappy Beatles cover band plays at our town’s July 4th fireworks each year, and we enjoy them simply because they’re playing the music of The Beatles. People of all ages and tastes feel good hearing the music of The Beatles on a warm summer night before fireworks shoot off. As we scanned the audience full of middle-aged Beatles dorks (myself included, although I think I was about the coolest guy there), I told her this would be like Wednesday night guitar mass, the only type of Catholic mass I could stomach during my rare visits to church as a boy. Wednesday night guitar mass was as hip as punching the clock would get.

During the long wait until The Fab Faux hit the stage we bitched about all the Harry Shearer’s Le Show-type Beatles covers that played over the sound system (ie, The Beatles as covered by artists sounding like Randy Newman, The Neville Brothers, and others who think it’s a good idea to make Beatles songs sound like they’re being performed by middle-aged white men in Louis Armstrong blackface) and tried to position ourselves safely away from all the big white collar guys who’d toked their first joint since 1992 and who were itching to elbow those around them while playing air guitar to the songs. It turned out to be impossible to avoid these types.

Finally, an Asian woman came out, and I thought, “Christ, they’ve got a Yoko Ono character with them?!?!” Turns out it was May Pang, perhaps rock’s premier one-trick pony, who has the audacity to bill her web site as “Official web site of a former girlfriend of John Lennon with news, biography, photographs, and FAQ.” (Sample FAQ: “What would you do to please John that Yoko wouldn’t?”) Pang then noted that Howard Stern sidekick Jackie “The Jokeman” Martling was “in the house.” Oh brother!

The Fab Faux then hit the stage, with Will Lee wearing a white, pouffy shirt, psychedelic bellbottoms, and a purple bowler hat. Wisely, he ditched the hat after the opening number. As a huge Late Night With Conan O’Brien fan, I was psyched to see Jimmy Vivino up close. That guy always cuts on his 7-second bits on the show, and he was delivering on all those fantastic George Harrison 14-second guitar solos. After 2 songs, it was clear that these guys were actually very good. One of the things I figured would be pleasurable seeing this show was the musicians’ ability to hit all the key licks afforded by any Beatles arrangement, and they were scoring in the high 9’s and even some 10’s any time a memorable bass lick or drum or guitar fill presented itself for the taking. What was really a nice surprise was that all the guys could sing and sing well. It was also cool that they weren’t wearing Beatles costumes or playing the songs in chronological order. I saw Beatlemania in high school, and it was a lot of fun, but I had little desire to see it again.

Minor criticisms washed away with each spirited, note-for-note version of a Beatles song and with the good vibes exuded by the musicians. They didn’t have some reverant approach to doing the songs. They were celebrating each song, each key lick along with every middle-aged (and older) Beatles fan in the room. We were coming together. A version of “I Dig a Pony” hit just right tone for the faithful. I stood there and thought about how cool it was that The Beatles put so much effort into the guitar arrangements for a bizarre, silly, throwaway song in almost any other band’s hands – or a clunky piece of sludge. Think about how much effort and rock nerd knowledge it would take to like that song had it been done by an otherwise fine ’60s band like The Move or The Pretty Things.

Around this time the band announced that some special guests would be joining them tonight, and the first one out was Conan O’Brien! I love Conan, the audience loved Conan. Just a few days earlier I’d had a dream that Conan and I spent a night on the town, ’50s-movie montage style, on a wild coke bender. No joke. We were snorting up mounds of the white stuff, cracking each other up with our hilarious banter as we moved from one nightclub’s bathroom to the next. So, Happy Birthday to me. Here’s Conan joining in with this totally fun Beatles cover band, and he’s going to do “My Bonnie”: “Tony Sheridan,” he explains to the few in the audience who may not know the connection, “was Germany’s answer to a British Elvis.” Good stuff, coke buddy of my dreams! Then he sang lead and played guitar on that song and “Too Much Monkey Business”. Conan, Beatles fan; me, Beatles fan; big, middle-aged businessmen toking their first joint since 1992, Beatles fans.

Other guests would include Marshall Crenshaw, who was reunited with his 1978 Beatlemania cast-mate and Fab Faux stand-in utlitiy guy Glen Burtnick (Marshall was John to Glen’s Paul; they are Beatles fans too); Willie Nile; and The Big Beat author Max Weinberg, who did a fine job putting some aerosol cymbals into a couple of early Beatles numbers. The hits and album tracks kept coming, and I stood there thinking about the fact that no other band could provide talented musicians the chance to play so many tightly arranged styles over the course of one night. Imagine playing in a Rolling Stones cover band, as great as the Stones are. At what point does playing Keef’s one hammer-on chord become a bore? At what point does Mick’s tippy-toe, butt prance become a drag? Covering the music of The Beatles allows one to get all sorts of rocks off. Thanks be to The Beatles.

Thanks be to The Beatles, my brother, my wife, The Fab Faux, and the 400 other true believers in the club that night. It was a rare night out where I felt like a part of things, where I felt in tune with popular tastes. We need times like that now and then.


  20 Responses to “The Fab Faux Conduct Wednesday Night Guitar Mass and Help Me Feel a Part of Things”

  1. hrrundivbakshi

    (Spoken in Hank Hill drawl) Mr. Mod, you are on a got-dang ROLL, I tell ya whut!

    Excellent post, and thanks for sharing. I had a sort of similar epiphany of the obvious the other day, as I was walking the hound with the earbuds in. On my iPod, I’ve done a pretty good job of sequestering just the best of the best from my stupidly large music collection, so I don’t have to do any skip-punching as I follow my dog’s ass around the neighborhood. After about 20 minutes of who knows what music from bands of RTH-acceptable qualty, some Beatles song came on. Not a “major” number — maybe it was “I Feel Fine” or something. Man, I just stopped in my mental tracks to marvel at how much *better* the Beatles were than everybody else. Just point-blank *better*. It’s quite an amazing thing, really. I don’t understand it. I mean, how do you put their excellence in context? By what standard do you measure them? It’s a puzzle.

  2. Not a “major” number — maybe it was “I Feel Fine” or something.

    If “I Feel Fine” is minor number, that says it all right there.

    A great comparison is Tiger Woods . Sure he should have won the Masters and US Open but over the last 4 majors he has gone 1-1-2-2. No other golfer has come close to doing that.

    The trulry amazing artists can only be compared to themselves. Kind of like the AMG Rating system.


  3. Mr. Moderator

    By the way, I should note the the extensive setlist performed by The Fab Faux the other night – at least the first 2+ hours we could stay for before having to get home before sunrise – did not include “The Word”, “Wait”, or “Run for Your Life”.

  4. BigSteve

    I love Willy Nile. Those first two records he did in the 80s, especially Golden Down, rule, but unfortunately they’re out of print. What did he do, something folky like You’vce Got To Hide Your Love Away?

  5. Mr. Moderator

    I wish I could remember exactly what he did – it was a song I like that I get confused with “You Can’t Do That” – maybe it was “You’re Gonna Lose That Girl”. He was tiny and full of zest, sang like he had a firecracker up his butt. He also had excellent hair.

  6. Great write-up, Mr. Mod. It sounds like it was a really great night! It’s a good thing that sometimes family knows you better than you know yourself! Kyle McLachlan with died brown hair… makes me kinda sad. He’s so great looking with dark hair, so twin peaks:) I so wish you could have caught him and asked him if he was Ray Manzarek. Dammit. That’s funny stuff.

  7. 2000 Man

    Sounds like fun, but I really hate going to shows with people that are smoking their first joint this century. It’s more fun to go to shows where the kids are (though I do find the women at the middle aged shows more interesting, and they look just as good to me).

    I went to see Damnation of Adam Blessing a few months ago. They were an early 70’s hard blues rock kinda band, contemporaries of The James Gang, and here in Cleveland they got a lot of recognition and were much loved. I knew I’d be one of the youngest people in the crowd (and at 45, I think I’ve passed the middle, ya know?), and I was. The Rainy Day Saints opened up, and they’re a currently working entity, so I had no idea how the crowd would react. Surprisingly, they ate it up. But I was getting the feeling that these were people that considered a night out a nice quiet dinner these days, and they were determined to relive their youth.

    I was right. They constantly pushed up to the front of the bar. Stood directly in front of me (but only if they were like twelve feet tall), wandered around, and fucking talked incessantly. “I got an ipod…blah blah blah…Too bad you can’t get any Damnation on cd (uhhh…like the boxed set?)…blah blah…after the show at Larry’s…blah..blah…BLAH”

    It was mostly fun. The band each stepped up and did solo’s. They even included a drum solo. I went and got beer and pissed and looked in at the punk band next door while that was going on, but the crowd seemed happy enough. I wanted to be grouchy about it, but then I had to figure I knew of like six upcoming shows I wanted to see, and odds were good that these folks were only gonna catch rock bands for free at summer community festivals and rib cook offs, maybe for the rest of their lives.

    Then again, the next two shows I saw broke out into big fights. So I think Mr. Mod had a pretty successful night of rocking out, considering. At least the Dewar’s and water crowd doesn’t beat each other up.

  8. Mr. Moderator

    I hear you, 2000 Man. By the way, the best overheard conversation that night at the bar went like this:

    50-year-old guy: Have you seen these guys before?

    35-year-old guy: No.

    50-year-old guy: Well, if you like Beatles-type music, you’re gonna love these guys!

  9. saturnismine

    that bit of conversation reminds me of something i overheard when the Brian Wilson / Wondermints show played the TLA ca. 2003. As the lights went up:

    50 yr old guy in Hawaiian shirt: What, no “Kokomo”?

    35 yr. old guy in Hawaiian shirt: I know! It’s his best song!

    35 yr. old hipster in john deere cap, to his friend: could this BE any more lame?

  10. I’ve never understood why I Dig A Pony seems to get so little respect. It’s one of my favorites from that album. What is it that bugs you about it?

  11. Mr. Moderator

    I love “I Dig a Pony”. What I was trying to get at was that the touch of The Beatles is what makes it so good. I think a lot of other fine ’60s contemporaries would have driven the song into the ground, not been able to sing it as well, not create that universal vibe that The Beatles could create, etc. Without the craft and special human qualities of The Beatles, I was trying to say, it would have been a song that only rock nerds like ourselves could dig, not a song that a cover band would dare play to a roomful of regular, fun-loving people. I know it’s an “album cut” among the well-known Beatles catalog, but I think they elevate the song itself and present it in a way that connects.

  12. Got it. A good point well stated.

  13. dbuskirk

    Yikes! That Jim Carrey cover makes me hate music. What a bad idea, and to top it off, it seems I’m completely out-of-step with the YouTube crowd’s comments:

    “This is just f-ing hilarious. I will have to show this to the parents later today.”

    “he is like one of those people you would never think would have such a awesome voice”

    “wow amazing voice!”

    “This is actually the best cover version I’ve heard of Walrus. I really think John Lennon would’ve got a kick out of hearing and watching Jim Carrey do his song.”

    “OMG what CANT Jim Carrey do?!?!?!”

  14. BigSteve

    I agree with db. I watched the first minute or so, and my take was “who could possibly have thought this was a good idea?”

  15. Mr. Moderator

    When I get the time, BigSteve, I have a very sad answer to your question. Maybe later today…

  16. hrrundivbakshi

    The saddest part of all is that the Carey thing was George Martin’s idea. I need to see if his version of “In My Life” featuring Michael Caine is on YouTube. Once again, life imitates SCTV imitating life!

  17. hrrundivbakshi

    Whoops — I meant Sean Connery:


    Then there’s Robin Williams doing “Come Together”:


    How is it possible for George Martin to be both Rock Saint and Rock Criminal?

  18. How is it possible for George Martin to be both Rock Saint and Rock Criminal?

    I submit that Martin’s actual rock acumen is rather low. He had perfect chemistry with The Beatles, who of course had more than enough rock acumen. Aside from those albums and maybe McCartney’s Tug of War, what good rock album did he ever produce? Okay, Blow by Blow. What else?

  19. hrrundivbakshi

    He did a bunch of great stuff with The Action.

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