Absolutely Fabulous: The Fab Four
I was only three years old in April of 1970 when The Beatles officially disbanded as a group, so my chances of experiencing Beatlemania first hand were effectively ended. It would be another ten or so years before my appreciation of the four lads from Liverpool truly developed but when it did, I was in to all things Beatle related. Even if my timing had not been off, The Beatles had stopped performing live several years before their breakup. In fact, many insiders and historians have speculated that the decision to stop touring in 1966 may have actually been the beginning of the end of the group. The Beatles felt they could not adequately reproduce their studio generated sound in a live setting and that it was unfair to their audiences to continuing playing the same old tunes. While hoards of screaming fans would have gladly paid to see their beloved Beatles read the phone book, the artistic integrity of the musicians won out and the live concerts were discontinued. Since I couldn’t see my favorite group live, I had to settle for the next best thing – tribute bands.
Over the years, I have attended performances from well over a dozen Beatles imitators. These groups ranged from overenthusiastic fans playing at the mall to dinner theater productions to road show versions of the Broadway play Beatlemania. Every one of these performances had something to offer, whether it was heartfelt sincerity, musical proficiency, or multimedia dazzle. For me though, the one tribute group that brings all of these elements together into the most enjoyable blend is The Fab Four.
Have you ever wondered what it would have been like if The Beatles’ break up had only been a temporary thing and they had reunited a few years later? What if they had decided to take their entire musical legacy on the road, taking advantage of improved technology to recreate their studio sounds live? How about if legendary showman Ed Sullivan were still alive and agreed to tour with them as master of ceremonies? Put all these elements together and you start to get an idea of what The Fab Four is all about.
The Fab Four show began when the unmistakable voice of Penn Jillette, the speaking half of the Penn and Teller comedy magic duo, broke the silence. He informed the audience that unlike the tricks he and his partner perform, everything in The Fab Four show is the real deal. They play every song themselves and use modern keyboards to recreate some of the more unusual sounds of The Beatles repertoire. When the voice over concluded, a single spotlight hit the stage curtain and a balding, stiffly moving man in an outdated suite stepped from behind it. Jerry Hoban is a professional Ed Sullivan impersonator; probably best know for his role in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. Here, he is given free reign to exceed the limitations of a mere immitation and give audiences an idea of just how funny Ed Sullivan could have been in the right environment. He kept his opening monologue brief and close to the real Sullivan’s original introduction, knowing the audience was more than ready to see The Beatles, I mean The Fab Four!
The stage lights burst on full blast as the opening cords of I Want to Hold Your Hand hit the auditorium and four lads in collarless suits were suddenly performing before us. The Fab Four maintained this look from the early Beatles period throughout a wonderful mix of their first hits and into the more somber period of the mid-sixties. Each member of the group bears more than a passing resemblance to the Beatle he portrays but Ardy Sarraf, who plays Paul, is a dead ringer. During his solo stage performance of Yesterday, playing in synch with a film of himself projected behind him, it was hard to imagine the true McCartney looking any different at that age.
For second half of the show, the psychedelic dial was turned up a notch and The Fab Four opened in the bright neon garb of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The attention they pay to detail was most obvious here, all the way down to Paul’s Ontario Provincial Police patch! After belting out an assortment of tunes from the Pepper album, Rolo Sandoval’s Ringo got to take the spotlight singing Yellow Submarine. About half way through the tune and the accompaniment of rear projected cartoon waves, a giant inflatable yellow submarine suddenly sailed across the stage. At this point, anyone in the audience who wasn’t already singing joined in and the auditorium was filled with one collective voice.
To allow the rest of the group time to switch into late era clothing, Ron McNeil, who plays John Lennon, walked on to the stage alone after a quick change of his own. Following a brief introduction detailing his admiration for the late Lennon, McNeil began a flawless rendition of Imagine on his keyboard. A few minutes into the song, the lights came up on the remainder of the stage and the solo artist became a quartet as the other three members joined him for the song. This number was a haunting look into what might have been if The Beatles really had gotten back together and performed live after a few years recording apart.
The final portion of the show featured many of the group’s later rock and roll tunes, beginning with Michael Amador, as George Harrison, tearing up the stage with the opening to Revolution. After seeing The Fab Four play tracks from the Abbey Road and Let It Be albums with the same energy they had at the start of the show, it was almost possible to forget that these were the swan songs of The Beatles career. As a finale encore, the group returned to the stage one by one and lead the audience in a rousing rendition of Hey Jude that had everyone still singing as they left the theater.
The Friday, January 8 show at the Florida Theater in Jacksonville was my second time seeing The Fab Four perform. If this show had been a note for note copy of the previous one I attended, I would have gone away happy. Instead, I saw a presentation that is clearly growing and improving. This performance had a noticeable improvement in stage effects and a welcomed increase in Mr. Sulivan’s participation. I went in expecting a tribute band and left feeling like I had just seen a real Beatles’ concert. The group’s love of their source material is evident in every aspect of this show and, as Ron McNeil pointed out, “if it wasn’t for The Beatles, we’d be The Monkees right now!”