For paying homage to the most original band in pop history, a majority of Beatles cover bands are painfully predictable—comically fake accents, circle-framed glasses, and a guitarist that looks more like George Takei than George Harrison. Credit The Fab Faux, a Beatles cover band (not a tribute band, so no dressing up) featuring Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien guitarist Jimmy Vivino and Late Show With David Letterman bassist Will Lee, for mixing up the status quo and ditching the Sgt. Pepper uniforms in favor of levels of obsessive attention to historical-performance detail usually only found in people who play the shawm or viola da gamba. As they’re playing tomorrow at the Keswick, The A.V. Club caught up with Vivino to chat about The White Album and the steps they take to precisely recreate the Beatles’ sound.
The A.V. Club: What White Album tracks do you think people are the least familiar with?
JV: The obvious is “Revolution 9” followed by “Good Night.” I always say to people, “Now you’re going to hear a song you’ve probably never heard before called ‘Good Night’ because you all took the needle off the record when ‘Revolution 9’ came on.” This is from the old days, of course. You would get to “Revolution 9,” and you would stop listening. My patience and tolerance for avant-garde has gotten much better than it was when I was a kid. “Revolution 9” really is something, especially now that they’ve released the bed, you know; it’s actually from the tail from “Revolution I”?
AVC: Is this off the mono releases?
JV: No, it’s sort of out there in the cyberspace. It’s not officially released, but it’s out there. The whole tail—the fade, with John laying on the floor, going [sings] “Right, all riiiight!” And they fade it up and down, and that’s how we figured out that there’s actually a pulse to “Revolution 9.” We do it like theater, where we all have a book with a time code in it, and we cue our own tape loops that we’ve created based on what we think we’re hearing.
AVC: You’re talking about all the crazy loops in reverse that are supposedly stuff like Beethoven and football team chants?
JV: Yeah, Frank [Agnello] and Will [Lee] researched it and found out what the actual pieces were. You can find anything out today, you know? That’s the beauty of the Internet. People wanna share that stuff. Nobody keeps it to themselves anymore.
AVC: Is it a good live song?
JV: You know what, for anyone who would take the time to listen to it, it’s an interesting piece of theater—not a clap-your-hands song. It’s not “Birthday,” but that’s the beauty of The White Album: It’s not all one thing. It’s the most diverse record. Another tough one—“Good Night,” just in its dignified glory of strings, choir, everything going on.
AVC: How about “The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill”? There’s that flamenco guitar solo—
JV: That solo was not played—you know the truth about that solo?
AVC: Isn’t it a keyboard?
JV: It’s actually an early Mellotron sample. It’s a tape of somebody playing. You just press the keyboard down, and that plays.
AVC: So is that how you play it live?
JV: Sure, because the song crashes right into it. If it wasn’t played by a Beatle, we don’t play it usually—unless it’s the fiddle or the extra instruments that they would add every now and then, or Eric Clapton playing “While My Guitar [Gentley Weeps].”
AVC: Do you bring in Eric Clapton for that?
JV: We bring Eric Clapton in, that’s right. [Laughs] We do the best we can. The songs and the arrangements are so embedded in the mind of the listener. You can throw a few curveballs past people, but not much. So, a lot of the audience does come intent on listening for details rather than the overall, so we have to be careful and pay attention to those details. There’s a mandolin on “Bungalow Bill” that is actually a Mellotron sample which I choose to play, because for me to play it, it’s better. It’s funny that nobody knew that until we all got our heads into a Mellotron and pressed that sample, and “Oh, there it is!”
AVC: Does anybody come after the show and be like “That was a Mellotron and not a mandolin in that section”?
JV: Well, they may say, “Hey, that was actually a Chamberlin, not a Mellotron.” The level of nerd-dom is right there with Star Wars and Star Trek and any other pop culture of our country. Even in England, if we go to Beatlefest, it’s just millions of nerds everywhere that know every detail.
AVC: You’ve said you don’t like covering “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?” outside of shows where you’re doing the entire White Album. Why?
JV: It’s a connecting piece, really. It goes from “Don’t Pass Me By” into that into "I Will," right? It’s almost like those three are one piece to me. We would never take one of those out by itself, just like we’d never do “[She Came In Through The] Bathroom Window” by itself without doing the whole Abbey Road medley. Though it’s a great song, but then you realize it’s only a minute and something—
AVC: It’s like 1:40.
JV: Yeah, it’s crazy! It starts with the back of the guitar, boom boom boom boom, and it’s just somebody beating the back of a guitar—we figured that out after years of thinking “What the hell is that?” It’s so simple. Somebody should just sample that and make a rap tune out of it.
AVC: How about the other “Revolution,” No. 1? Is there a point in that song where you just want to screw it and play the faster version?
JV: Yeah, I prefer the fast, rockin' one.
AVC: There’s a certain charm to the slow version, though.
JV: Oh, the horns, the “doo-wop” sort of vocals, it’s just sort of lazy. That’s the one that as it goes out on the fade that they based “Revolution 9” on. They used that as the bed, and they added things on top of that, and slowly pulled away the track to where it disappeared completely. But, in doing that, the pulse of “Revolution 9” is still the same as “Revolution I."
AVC: Off the subject, what are your thoughts on The Beatles: Rock Band? Do you think the game convinced people that recreating the Beatles’ songs is easier than it actually is?
JV: To a point, everybody knows them. Part of the battle of learning something is memorizing how it goes in your head. We all know that, so Beatles songs are easier to play because we want to play them. If you go try and figure out something you don’t listen to, it’s really hard. The Beatles are kind of in our fiber, you know? We’ve listened to it since we were little kids. Everybody’s heard it. But playing Rock Band is not really playing music, of course. One day, people will find that out. [Laughs].