Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Fab Faux: Repertory Rock and Roll

Despite the growing popularity of so called tribute bands, in some circles the mere mention of them sometimes elicits groans and shudders of revulsion.  Among fellow musicians especially, contempt prior to investigation is the rule.  This is partly because tribute bands are increasingly dominant in the marketplace, sometimes edging out acts that play original music.  I have experienced more Beatles tribute bands than most, partly because of a love of the music, but also because of a musician grandson who also really digs the Beatles and Ringo Starr in particular.  From what I have experienced, Beatles tributes typically strive for the look of the real Beatles, which sometimes involves ill-fitting Pepper costumes, wigs, and vain attempts at cheeky Liverpudlian accents, and perhaps a modicum of workmanlike bar band competence with the repertoire.  As an exercise in nostalgia, it might be fun the first time, but after a while acts of this ilk often strike me as "phoned in" and maybe even cynical.  Not so with New York City's Fab Faux, whom I would call the world's only Beatles repertory group, with a mission akin to Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Mingus Dynasty, or even sometime Jazz at Lincoln Center.  What these outfits all have in common is that they provide access to vital important music that is no longer available in a live context.  This is not so different from the many fine European Classical orchestras who would probably be horrified if they were to be referred to as a Handel or Bach tribute.  I think of the FF as a repertory group because of their ability to put across a loving, respectful performance of the greatest repertoire in all of Rock and Roll history.  what's more it's the entire repertoire of Beatles music, including works that the Beatles couldn't and didn't perform live.  To hear a Fab Faux concert is to hear high caliber versions of the Beatles book, with all the live energy and presence intact, and without the hype and costumes.  It's clear that they love the music and that they have researched it with an archaeological intensity.  It is beyond note for note, and with a quintet of multi-instrumentalists, and access to the now digital electronic innovations of Abbey Road in place, the Beatles canon is in capable hands.  I have experienced the Fabs in concert many times now, and I believe they are providing an essential service in making available the best live Beatles experience anywhere.

Richard Mayer


Friday, September 15, 2017

Theater Review: Heartbreak Hotel

While on vacation in Maine this Fall, I was privileged to see the world premiere of Heartbreak Hotel at the Ogunquit Playhouse.  This latest offering is from the pen of the prolific Floyd Mutrux whose previous works, Million Dollar Quartet and Baby It's You have enjoyed much success in recent years.  I saw Million Dollar Quartet last year, and while it was a worthwhile experience overall, HH is the stronger and more compelling story, with a superior cast, at least in the Ogunquit production I attended.  HH is the story of the young Elvis Presley, from his discovery at Sun Records in Memphis by Sam Phillips to the sale of his contract to RCA a few short years later.  Portrayed by the captivating Eddie Clendening supported by a cast of solid musicians deftly paying respect to the music of Rock and Roll's dawning days, the Elvis character was lovingly played both as a believable character and a musician with a gift for the world.  Clendening nailed the subtleties of the shy, awkward kid that first walked into Sun to make a record for his mother.  In a world of hyped, cliched,  and overstated impersonation, and the callous treatment of the tragedy that his life ultimately became, Clendening's respectful rendering of Rock and Roll's number one icon was refreshingly poignant.  This, in short, is the Elvis I wish to remember.  Musically, you couldn't do any better than this extraordinary cast serving up not only Presley's music, but the African American canon of  music that influenced and shaped him.  As is the case with many musicals in the Rock and Roll genre, the music itself is the real story, with trite dialogue serving as filler between the great and memorable repertoire we all came to hear one more time.  HH is a story that deserves to be told with reverence and relevance, which is what happened here.  Along with Million Dollar Quartet, Baby It's You, and Heartbreak Hotel, director Mutrux is also the author of the American Pop Anthology whose history informs his writing of Rock and Roll plays.  His success and competence with these musical vehicles has earned him a Broadway run of MDQ with Clendening in the lead role, so it seems likely that HH is Broadway bound as well.

Richard Mayer

Tuesday, July 11, 2017