Beatles tributes are almost as plentiful as Elvis tributes and time and again, most involve the obvious mop-top wigs, 1960s-style suits or the expected satin and feathered flamboyance of the Sgt. Pepper-era costumes.
But what if one group decided to scrap the costumes and just perform the music the way the Beatles recorded it instead? After all, it was and still is the music that left the indelible mark, and not so much the fashion, which has been relegated to musty trunks or museums by now.
It is the music that continues to spark and inspire this unique approach, delivered by a Las Vegas-based group, The Fab. These musicians are more about twisting and shouting, yet digging a little deeper into the entire Beatles catalog.
Consisting of Pat Woodward (founder of the pack, lead guitar, synth guitar and vocals); Cam "McCartney" Konicek (lead guitar, vocals); Aaron Olsen (drums, percussion); John Menniti (bass guitar, vocals); and Mike Bowmen (keyboards, percussion, vocals), these guys have created what is known as "the world's greatest live Beatles music celebration in Las Vegas" since 1995.
Just like the Beatles, who dared to be different, and then traveled across the pond to America in the '60s, The Fab are bringing their different take on a road trip of their own. They are heading to the Avi Resort & Casino for the first time to deliver the Beatles 1 album in its entirety, as part of their popular Albumpalooza Concert Series in the Grand Ballroom on Saturday, June 22. Beatles 1 is a compilation with virtually every No. 1 single the band achieved in the U.S. from 1962-1970.
We talked with John Menniti, about the music, the group and the show they bring to Laughlin. Here's his take…
Talk about the group's background and this unique approach.
It started out in 1995 — Pat Woodward is the guy who actually started it — this is before my time in the band, but it started out as just a coffee-shop duo, just him and another guy. They were just playing small venues doing two-part harmony, and it became so popular that they decided to form a band and the idea of wearing costumes never occurred to them because they'd never worn costumes as a duo.
It sounds like a more honest approach to the music.
Yeah, yeah, we try to keep it original. I mean, we figure there's enough bands doing that so we don't need to. You know, we don't wear costumes, we're always plain-clothed. The band has a history — almost a quarter of a century — we're going to be celebrating 25 years next year. It's got a big following here in Las Vegas, it's a local Las Vegas band and we've performed everywhere in all the major casinos, showrooms, etc., etc., but this is our first venture out into Laughlin, which is crazy cool.
Is that the only thing that sets you guys apart from the pack?
The thing is, technology played a factor as well, in that, over the years, the technology caught up and allowed us to play full Beatles productions as a five-piece band. The creation of the guitar synthesizer means that our guitar player can play piccolo and trumpet solos on his guitar, like in "Penny Lane," the drummer has an electronic drum bed that emulates firemen's bells — these are just examples, and with the keyboard technology the way it is, you can do full orchestrations, so we manage to create a big sound with just four musicians and a keyboard player. And so to me, the real joy of what we do is matching note-for-note what the record sounds like, with just five pieces on stage. It's pretty remarkable.
What do audiences think when you guys are performing Beatles music and you're not trying to replicate their look? Do they look at it as a refreshing change?
We didn't even think about the costumes, but in the marketplace, what sets us apart from almost every other Beatles act out there is that we do it in plain clothes. We're not characters. We don't put on accents. The joy as a performer, is that we're not locked into singing any one guy's material. I sing Paul, I also sing John Lennon, I also sing George Harrison stuff. So I get to sing a whole array of Beatles' stuff, not just stuff that's locked into my character, say, if I was playing someone specific. So that's kind of fun. And we can be ourselves, and we really give it a tribute. We set up every song as best we can and we give it a historical perspective, maybe we give the audience some historical information, like where the song was recorded, who wrote it, and how it was written. It's more of a thoughtful entertainment experience for the person that comes out to see us. That's why the true Beatles' fans really, really enjoy what we do.
Explain this Albumpalooza thing.
Albumpalooza is a concept I actually came up with myself, and already being a member of The Fab when I created it, it was a natural merger. Albumpalooza is a concept that is dedicated toward full concert productions, recreating live albums that people know and love, the classic albums that we love. So albums like Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, the Beatles' Abbey Road, the Eagles Greatest Hits — all these great-selling albums people remember. People get to hear them performed live just the way they sounded when the needle hit the vinyl 'cause nobody listens to albums anymore. So we like to think of it as trying to salvage the lost art form of listening to an album the way it was meant to.
Talk about the show you're bringing to Avi. Is there one segment that seems to go over with audiences no matter where you are?
First of all, we're going to be coming there with the best of the best. Where most bands out there, if you research, for instance Bruce Springsteen never had a No. 1 hit single, the Rolling Stones have had about five or six No. 1 singles. The Beatles had 26, which is incredible. And we're going to play every one of them in one show — which is an amazing thing. Every song is a classic.
To me, the most amazing thing about the Beatles is you can play those 26 No. 1 hit singles and you could do a whole other show not playing a single one of them and it would still be a great show. They have so much great material. So, I would say the two highlights of the show are gonna be hearing all those great songs performed note-for-note, just the way you remember listening to them, and then the second thing we do — every Fab show, we have a segment that I created called "In Memoriam" where we actually pay tribute to the songs that weren't part of the setlist that night, and we do it a little tongue-in-cheek. But the bonus for the audience is they get to pick one song that we throw into the show, on the spur of the moment, by their applause. So we give them a choice of 10 songs that are not on the playlist and they get to pick one and we instantly play it for them. That's a fun highlight the audience really enjoys.
A new film “Yesterday” hits movie theaters June 28, with the premise that the Beatles music is good no matter what generation or what a performer looks like. It seems to be making the same point as you guys. What are your thoughts about that?
Well, I think that's a great concept. I thought I came up with it myself 20 years ago. But I'm sure everyone has had that fantasy that you're playing these songs nobody has ever heard of, or you go in a time machine or something and you go back to 1960 and write all these songs yourself. It's amazing how universal the music is, and how every generation seems to embrace it and we have kids at our shows, 7 or 8 years old, who know all the words. It also goes up into the oldest folks that can come out and see us and they know all the words, too. There's no other band that really has that kind of reach musically and culturally, too. When you think about the way the Beatles looked in 1962, and then the way they looked in 1970, that's not a long time. That's something people lose perspective of in just seven years they changed so much, and recorded so much material. A band right now will release an album once every two years or three years. In three years, the Beatles probably had six albums out.
The music also has that timeless feature that defies age.
Their music still just sounds so fresh. It's just remarkable when you think about all they've done. It's almost magical but we just celebrate their music every time we go out, we have a good time. It's rare — I've played in a lot of bands over the years and it's just really nice to be in a band where everybody in the band is loving what they're doing. There's no songs where you just kind of roll your eyes up and say, "ah, I've gotta do this one again." There's none of that here, every song is just a pleasure to play and I love seeing the looks on people's faces in the crowd who are really enjoying what we're doing and singing along. We also try to incorporate some video imagery in our show, that's another element people should know about, I think. We really try to make it a multi-media experience for the people that are seeing this, it's not just good music, but something nice to see as well.
One more thing…
It should never be forgotten, the huge role that producer George Martin had with them. Because he was so integral to their success in that he took their crazy ideas, and figured out how to make them work. And the Beatles were very intelligent young men. People don't give them enough credit. When they first came to America, their answers in the press conferences were witty, they were quick, they were smart, and as the culture changed and Vietnam, when things got dark, they had something to say about it — they weren't just pretty boys in jackets. Not to mention they were brilliant at songwriting and performing.