On Stage: Fab Faux focus on the sound of the Beatles

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Fab Faux

Beatles fans will never be able to see the Beatles perform live — unless John and George somehow come back from the dead. But the band’s music lives on with a wide array of tribute acts performing songs from the foursome’s impressive catalogue.

Some of these tribute acts put on stage shows in which they try to look and sound like the Beatles. Others are content with providing an “as-accurate-as-possible” re-creation of the Beatles’ music.

The Fab Faux, who will be performing on May 17 at the Keswick Theater (291 N. Keswick Avenue, Glenside, 215-572-7650, www.keswicktheatre.com), fall into the latter category.

The Fab Faux’s members are celebrated bassist Will Lee (CBS Orchestra/David Letterman, countless artists); Jimmy Vivino, music director/guitarist for “Conan” and longtime music partner of Levon Helm, John Sebastian, Laura Nyro; lead-singing drummer/producer Rich Pagano (Rosanne Cash, Roger Waters); guitarist Frank Agnello (Marshall Crenshaw, Phoebe Snow); and multi-instrumentalist, Jack Petruzzelli (Joan Osborne, Patti Smith).

“It started 20 years ago with Will Lee and Rich Pagano,” said Petruzelli, during a phone interview Tuesday afternoon from his home in Harlem.

“They were on another gig and they started messing around with Beatles songs at sound check. It was Will’s idea. He said – we should start our own Beatles tribute band.

“Will recruited Jimmy Vivino. Will lived in the same building as Jimmy Vivino at the time. It started there. It took off and now has been going on for 21 years.

“When I tell people I’m in a Beatles tribute band, I have to tell them that we don’t dress up. There’s nothing wrong with dressing up. We know Beatles tribune bands that look and sound great.”

Even the best plastic surgeons in the world couldn’t make the members of the Fab Faux look like John, Paul, George and Ringo.

“We just try to bring the records to the stage – to recreate the records as close as we can. We approach it from a studio environment. It’s all about the music.”

The Fab Faux has been doing a good enough job of playing Beatles music that it has survived more than two decades. The Fab Faux now has an amazing number of Beatles songs in its repertoire.

“The Beatles had 211 recorded songs and we can do 209 of them – maybe 210,” said Petruzelli.

The band not only plays songs, it plays entire Beatles album in one show. It also has other themed shows.

On its current three-show run, the Fab Faux played “The White Album” in its entirety last weekend in Ann Arbor, Michigan. This Saturday, it will be performing “Abbey Road” and “A Hard Day’s Night” in their entireties.

“For our show at the Keswick this week, one set features the solo years – songs from each of the Beatles’ solo careers. The second set will be ‘Abbey Road’ in its entirety. It’s always one of our favorite albums to play.”

Video link for the Fab Faux — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D5BDZpVMQ_w.

The show at the Keswick Theatre featuring The Fab Faux with The Hogshead Horns, The Creme Tangerine Strings, Erin Hill & Jim Boggia will start at 8 p.m. Ticket prices range from $49.50 – $99.50.

Other upcoming shows at the Keswick Theatre are “The ELO Experience — Strange Magic” on May 18, and Damien Escobar on May 19.

KT Tunstall

Things will be rocking hard at the World Café Live (3025 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, 215-222-1400, www.worldcafelive.com) on May 17 when KT Tunstall headlines a show that also features Maddie Ross as the opening act.

Tunstall released her sixth album, “WAX,” via Rostrum Records in October 2018. Since then, she has been on the road – touring in support of the well-received LP.

Tunstall is a singer-songwriter-musician from Edinburgh, Scotland who burst onto the music scene in 2004 with a live solo performance of her song “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree” on the popular British TV show “Later… with Jools Holland.”

In the decade that followed, she released four full-length studio albums, along with a few EPs and live recordings.

Tunstall has had her songs featured in a number of hit movies such as “The Devil Wears Prada,” as well as television shows such as “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Criminal Minds.” Her album sales are approaching 10 million and she has been nominated for a Grammy Award, the Mercury Music Prize and several BRIT Awards.

A few years ago, Tunstall thought she was done with music.

She had reached a turning point in her life and she called it quits for her music career.

“Why did I quit — it was really the circumstances,” said Tunstall. “My father passed away. I broke up with my ex. I was miserable. I created my own story. I was a success musically, but I didn’t feel happy.”

So, Tunstall halted her career as a rock musician, left the U.K. and relocated to Southern California.

“I had visited Santa Monica (CA) before,” said Tunstall. “I had rented a bike and rode around. I realized I could find sanctuary in Southern California. So, I sold everything I owned and moved to Venice Beach. It was the best thing I’ve ever done.

“I had been defined by music for 20 years. Who I was had become lost in that identity. I wanted music to be what I do not who I am. So, I cut the cord.”

Tunstall relocated to Los Angeles, abandoned the world of rock music and set her focus on writing music for films.

“I started composing film music and did some great work with film,” said Tunstall.

She studied composing soundtracks at the Skywalker Ranch and composed and performed the following soundtracks — “Winter’s Tale,” “Million Dollar Arm,” “Tinker Bell and the Legend of the NeverBeast” and “About Ray.”

“Once I moved to California, I spent a lot of time chilling out and reflecting,” said Tunstall.  “I love listening to music in my car. I spent time driving through Laurel Canyon and Topanga Canyon — listening to the music that was made there by acts such as Fleetwood Mac, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young.

“I got inspired. I began writing these really big choruses. At the same time, my mind and my body said ‘No.’ I was making very unfettered music that wasn’t self-conscious. I was writing muscular, emotional pop songs that I would be foolish to have ignored. The writing began around the beginning of 2015. After doing a few tracks, I thought — this is really good material.

“I went to Taos, New Mexico. I chopped wood in the morning and looked at the snow. I did eight hours a day of just writing — writing on acoustic guitar by the fire. The fire was really a great birthplace for the songs. The landscape in the Southwest was a big inspiration.”

Tunstall had hopped off the train before in her career.

In 2008, Tunstall’s career had been moving along like an express train. So, she decided it was time to hop off the train and get on a boat – to Greenland. She was part of the Cape Farewell Project, living on a boat with a group of artists, writers and musicians who were invited to create their own response to the harsh landscape and the specter of climate change.

“That was incredible,” said Tunstall. “It was a great place to start writing a new record. After that, I kept traveling for a while.”

Over a course of three months, Tunstall went horse riding with gauchos in Chile, explored the wild nature of the Galapagos Islands, walked Peru’s Inca Trail to the ruined city of Machu Picchu and visited the Barefoot College of Tilonia in India, where women from villages as far away as Africa are taught how to build solar equipment from scratch.

Tunstall also jammed with local musicians in the Rajasthani desert and traveled through New Zealand in a vintage VW camper van. She arrived in Auckland and collaborated with Johnny Marr, Wilco and musicians from Radiohead at Neil Finn’s “Seven Worlds Collide Jamboree.”

“It was very magical in the desert,” said Tunstall. “After that, I went to Kerala. I really started to write again in India and then wrote more when I got back in my home space in the English countryside. After getting off the road and having a break, there was a re-ignition of the subconscious.”

Not surprisingly, the “urge for going” has found Tunstall once again.

“I’m still living in California – but not for long,” said Tunstall. “I realized that I need to take off and go — go where it’s wild…. where there is more nature. I’ve been living in Venice Beach for four years so it’s time for something new.

“When this happened, I decided that ‘KIN’ was going to be the first album of a trilogy – spirit, body, mind. ‘KIN’ was the album for spirit.”

“KIN” was written in L.A. and produced by Tony Hoffer (Beck, Fitz and the Tantrums, Air, M83). “KIN” is guitar pop at its best.

“Tony had been high on my list of people to work with,” said Tunstall. “He understood the world of commercial music — and how to push the borderline. Tony and I spent a couple of months working on the album.”

“WAX,” the second installment of the trilogy, was produced by Nick McCarthy of Franz Ferdinand.

“‘WAX’ was recorded in the latter part of 2017 and early 2018,” said Tunstall. “It’s a real living and energetic record. I recorded it in London with a three-piece – me, Nick and a drummer named Kay Myers. We recorded it in a garage full of synthesizers and vintage gear. It’s loud and rock-and-roll.”

Tunstall knew what she was looking for and that’s why she headed to London to work with McCarthy.

“I recorded it with Nick at Sausage Studio in East London,” said Tunstall. “We spent three weeks and recorded it live – which I much prefer. I didn’t wear headphones a lot of the time. I like it better when I sing and play guitar at the same time. It’s a rhythm thing. My singing becomes a little more free.

“That’s the way I started. Years ago, I was busking in Dundee (Scotland). I was on the streets with my guitar – singing and playing at the same time – the guitar bone connected to the throat bone. I carried that feeling into the studio for the new album.

“It was a really lo-fi recording. I wanted to make a rock-and-roll record, so I wanted to make it in a rock-and-roll environment. It was recorded digital with a lot of analog gear. The guys from the band My Riot added some textural stuff. They injected some audio steroids. They used the computer in a real musical way.”

For Tunstall, it’s two down and one to go with her latest project.

“I’m in the middle of a trilogy,” said Tunstall. “‘KIN’ was soul. ‘WAX’ is body. The third one will be mind.

“I felt stagnant after the album before ‘KIN.’ I felt that it was repetitive. With ‘KIN,’ I wanted to be a musician. ‘KIN’ felt like a soul record. ‘KIN’ was the soundtrack of my life at the time. It’s really exciting to be involved in a long-term project.

“With ‘WAX,’ I wanted it to be about the body. With body as the subject matter, I wanted the music to be more visceral. I wanted to explore electric guitar. Thematically, I wanted to keep to the story of the album. I love writing an album. I was being creative writing songs about physicality and sexuality. It’s a very physical record.”

The third part of the trilogy will take the upper road.

“The writing had just begun for the ‘mind album’,” said Tunstall. “It’s about the machinations of our own brain – about life within your own head.”

This is the second tour that pairs Tunstall with Ross. They were on the road together last fall.

“I was looking for someone to open for me on my U.S, tour last year,” said Tunstall. “I came across Maddie and reached out to her via a tweet.”

In a phone interview Tuesday, Ross said, “KT contacted me and asked if I wanted to go on tour with her. I was really happy with that.”

Maddie Ross

Ross, an indie rocker from L.A., writes pop-punky love songs and guitar-driven anthems about her producer, co-writer and longtime girlfriend Wolfy (aka Madison Sheckel). In early 2017, Ross came to the attention of Billboard Rock writer Chris Payne, who featured her on Billboard.com’s home page as “The Best DIY Rock Star You’ve Never Heard Of”. Her single “You’re Still My Sugar” was named Billboard.com’s #9 Rock Song of that year.

“I’ve been obsessed with music all my life,” said Ross. “I watched the Selena movie and the Spice Girls movie when I was young. Movies about singers got me into music. And, so did my family.

“I grew up in Toronto and my dad – Mark Ross – used to be in a band called The Picture.  My parents moved to California right before I was born – to Novato, a town in Marin County

“My dad showed me how to play guitar when I was in sixth grade. The first song I learned was ‘The First Cut Is the Deepest.’ I started writing immediately. Every time I learned a new chord, I’d add it to a song I was writing. I have a sister who is a year-and-a-half older. We’d write songs together and she’d sing.

“I’ve always liked writing. When I was in middle school, I wanted to be a novelist. I got really serious about playing music when I was in high school. I spent a lot of time in my room writing and playing.”

Ross was serious enough about making music that she chose music – pop music — as her major in college.

“When I was in high school, I heard that USC (University of Southern California) offered a pop music degree,” said Ross, referring to USC’s Thornton School.

“I decided to apply there. I made videos of a couple songs and sent in an audition tape. In 2010, I started my college studies there at Thornton. It was a pretty immersive program.

“I released my first EP in 2014. My girlfriend Wolfy produced it and co-wrote with me. In 2016, I recorded a three-song EP called ‘Making Out Is Easy.’ That was a turning point musically.

“I had finally come out to my family and friends. That was my first moment of realizing that I could sing about girls instead of using obscure lyrics. Still, coming out was very challenging. We slowly came out as we got comfortable.”

The props from Billboard helped Ross’ career accelerate and touring with Tunstall amped things up even more.

“In October 2018, I put out my EP, ‘Touch Hands, Touch Bodies,” said Ross. “I made it quickly to have something for the tour in the fall with KT. ‘Loners,’ the second single from the EP, is an ode to our love story.”

Ross’ latest release in “Never Have I Ever,” was made entirely by women, produced by Wolfy and co-written between the couple. It follows Ross’ most recent release, “Touch Hands, Touch Bodies” EP, which debuted at BlackBook and was Number 25 on Billboard staff’s “25 Best Rock Albums of 2018.”

Ross seems to have found a good trajectory – out and then onward and upward.

Video link for KT Tunstall – https://youtu.be/Dxf0lhz1dJo.

Video link for Maddie Ross – https://youtu.be/nKf1hWNEv0c.

The show at the World Café Live will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25.

Angela Sheik

Girls who rock will also be a main attraction when Angela Sheik and sisters Nalani & Sarina headline Gable Music Ventures’ “Eighth Anniversary Show” on May 17 at The Queen (500 North Market Street, Wilmington, 202-730-3331, www.thequeenwilmington.com).

Gable Ventures’ Facebook entry on the event stated – “Gable Music Ventures launched our business with an event at the Siegel JCC creatively called the “Original Music Showcase” on May 21, 2011. It was a great lineup headlined by Baltimore’s Joe Keyes “The Late Bloomer” & the Late Bloomer Bands, and featuring sets from Rory Sullivan, The Hold Up, and more.

“To say we’ve learned quite a bit over the last eight years is an understatement. We’re now a team of eight people that work tirelessly to find opportunities for musicians to perform. But on Friday, May 17th, we’re taking a night to celebrate this big milestone. And we couldn’t think of a better way than bringing back our 2011 headliner — Mr. Joe Keyes & his Late Bloomer Band. We’ve also asked Nalani & Sarina to perform as they’ve been such a huge part of our business. PLUS witness the debut of Gable’s Director of Special Events Lauren Kuhne’s new band, Lauren & the Homewreckers.”

The celebration at The Queen will get underway at 7 p.m. with Jacopo De Nicola (with Jeremy on cajon) followed by Lauren & the Homewreckers. Angela Sheik will take the stage at 8 p.m. and then there will be an “EP Release” set by TreeWalker. Nalani & Sarina will start their set at 9:05 and then Joe Keyes and The Late Bloomer Band will be the final act starting at 10 p.m.

General admission tickets are $15.

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