Time to face facts: You are never going to see the Beatles play live. They broke up almost a half-century ago, and only two of them still walk the earth. Of course, there’s the phenomenon known as Beatles tribute bands, and they’re all over the place. There are the Fab Four in Las Vegas, the Repeatles in Stockholm, the Zeatles in Wellington, the Aspreys in Tokyo, all-girl group the Beatelles in Liverpool, and plenty more. They put on wigs and run through costume changes ranging from tight gray suits to psychedelic uniforms. Some of them come pretty close to sounding like John, Paul, George, and Ringo.
And then there’s the Fab Faux, a quintet of top shelf musicians — Jimmy Vivino, the music director and guitarist on “Conan,” joined by bassist Will Lee (who played in the Letterman band since the first show), guitarist Frank Agnello, keyboardist Jack Petruzzelli, and drummer Rich Pagano — who’ve worked as a note-for-note, harmony-for-harmony, album-focused Beatles tribute band since 1998. The Faux visits the Wilbur Theatre on Saturday to play “Meet the Beatles” and its British counterpart, “With the Beatles,” in their entirety.
The band was the brainchild of Lee who, at the time, was Vivino’s upstairs neighbor in a New York apartment building. They would regularly share elevator rides or pass each other in the hallways when heading to or returning from their TV gigs. On a recent phone call from Los Angeles, Vivino recalled Lee one day saying to him, “Let’s start a Beatle band.” Vivino shrugged off the idea.
Two days later, Lee said, “So when are we gonna start the Beatle band?” Vivino said that he eventually realized Lee would not take no for an answer, especially if it involved the Beatles.
Q. How did Will convince you to say yes?
A. He kept asking me, and finally one day he called me and said, “I’ve got three other guys up here [Agnello, Petruzzelli, and Pagano] and we’re ready to try some stuff. Just take a walk upstairs. I did, and he threw a [song]book in front of me and said, “Here’s ‘Because.’ Let’s work this out.” That was our first song. He knew everyone there could play and sing, but needed to know if we could harmonize. Then the grab bag started. We sat around on the couch, with a table in the middle, and we all had our Beatle songbooks and we were going through, claiming songs like land barons. We did our first gig at the China Club in New York 17 years ago.
Q. Had you been playing a lot of Beatles tunes on your own or with others before that?
A. I think the first thing I learned was the bass notes on “And I Love Her” when I was 9. I wasn’t really playing guitar yet; I was playing trumpet. My brother Jerry and I had a band with clarinet and trumpet and snare drum, and we played the Batman theme and “The Ballad of the Green Berets.” No Beatles songs back then. But by the time I was 12, and I was in bands, we were playing the Beatles’ cover of “Money.” But I was a Beatles fan. I bought every record when they came out, and I had a band in high school that had horns, so we played “Savoy Truffle,” and the slow “Revolution.”
Q. The Fab Faux has done shows featuring entire albums, or just singles, or a snapshot of the Beatles’ whole career. For the Wilbur show, you’re doing “Meet the Beatles” and “With the Beatles.” That’s mostly originals, with some covers of songs by Chuck Berry (“Roll Over Beethoven”), Smokey Robinson (“You Really Got a Hold on Me”), Berry Gordy (“Money”), and Meredith Willson (“Till There Was You”). That’s only a total of 17 relatively short songs.
A. Those songs will be the first part, and the second will be a grab-bag of stuff. It’ll probably be about 2½ hours. We’re actually three songs away from knowing the entire catalog: We’re down to “Real Love,” that later song from John, “Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby,” the Carl Perkins cover, and . . . oh, man, I can’t remember the third one, but it’s something from the early period.
Q. So the deal is that audiences get live performances of what the records sounded like?
A. Yeah, for instance, if one of us is singing a lead, someone else will double that vocal, the way the Beatles did. But we also open up on some stuff, usually only at the end of songs. We might extend the fades, especially on something like “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” or on some of the more rockin’ stuff like “Boys,” we might have two solos. And wherever we can, we use the same instruments they were using in that period. I have probably 15 guitars for the show, including two sitars, a nylon string for “Till There Was You,” an Epiphone Texan acoustic, a Gibson J-160E, which is what John and George often used in the studio, and a Rickenbacker 12-string electric, which George played a lot.
Q. You all must have done a lot of listening to their records.
A. The forensic part of this goes on forever with us. With all the new technology, we can hear just the bass from “Penny Lane,” or a funny little tambourine part on “Happiness Is a Warm Gun,” or just some snare drum overdub. You start going into their songs, and you find that there’s so much going on. So in our illness and nerd-dom, we try to find a way to apply that to our live sound as often as we can. Bringing the records to the stage is the main purpose of this band.
Interview was condensed and edited. Ed Symkus can be reached at esymkus