If you ask bassist Will Lee, there is no shortage of mutual respect and admiration shared by the Fab Faux and the State Theatre.
The band returns -- with the Creme Tangerine Strings & Hogshead Horns -- Saturday, March 12, to the historic Easton venue. The performance will mark the Fab Faux's 13th stop at the State Theatre.
"We're in love with the theater. We're in love with the people who work there," Lee said during a February phone interview. "We've broken every rule and they keep inviting us back. It's like another home for us."
For this trek, the group is paying tribute to the Beatles' respective solo catalogs and the hits. Tackling all of the popular songs and fan favorites in a single night is a Herculean, almost impossible task, Lee said.
"We can't cover all of the great material ever written. We're going to touch on the ones you expect to hear. But you're going to hear some surprises, for sure," he said. "We could probably make this a seven or eight-night show."
Since forming in 1998, Lee and the Fab Faux -- drummer Rich Pagano, Conan guitarist Jimmy Vivino, Frank Agnello and Jack Petruzzelli -- have tackled every era of the iconic British rock band. Yet Lee said going on stage and playing through the Fab Four's discography still presents its own challenge due to the complexity of the music and the arrangements. Lee described the process of breaking down the Beatles' songs as never-ending. "There's so much learning," he said.
Lee said the goal of the Fab Faux was to be able to bring the entire breadth of the Beatles catalog to the stage while recreating the intricate melodies and many layers of the latter's music.
What they did not want to do, Lee said, was put on a mop top wig and became a "look-a-like band." Doing so, Lee said, limits many tribute bands to performing the Beatles early, rock 'n' roll and R&B records. However, it was not long before the same material would find its way into the Fab Faux's repertoire.
"There's so much magic in there (later Beatles songs). We wanted to be able to accommodate other textures," Lee said. "But after a long time of focusing on that, we realized we have to expand to the entire (Beatles) catalog to get more stuff happening. That led us into learning the earlier stuff."
Lee said the challenge of covering the Beatles earliest records was playing music where each individual instrument was more exposed without the added layers and accompaniment of strings and horn sections. "There are less parts, so you're really spotlighting individually than being on of 11 people," he said.
'Late Show' legacy
Our conversation then shifted to Lee's tenure as David Letterman's house band bassist -- a position, along with bandleader/keyboardist Paul Schaffer -- he held for more than three decades, from Letterman's first night on the air (Feb. 1, 1982) as host of Late Night with David Letterman on NBC to the final episode of CBS' Late Show with David Letterman (May 20, 2015).
Lee said he feels in debt to Schaffer, whom he got to know prior to coming aboard Late Night. He recalled having a a great time performing that first night. He was still unsure if the first installment of a new late-night talk show was going to last beyond its 13-week pilot order. "I was in awe of the whole process and wondered, 'Is there a chance this could work?' As far as the odds are in the business of television, no, there wasn't much of a chance," he said. "So we thought we might as well do the best playing we can."
That first night wound up being a gig that lasted 33 years. He said the musical chemistry Lee, Schaffer and the rest of the original house band shared gave those early episodes a unique dynamic. "We already had a real vibe among ourselves. I like to think we were some part of why people tuned in to watch the show in the beginning days, even though Dave was the monster entertainer he is," Lee said. "I was only there to make music. I was really surprised toward the end of the 13 weeks we got renewed for another 13. Before we knew it, it was a year-long contract."
Lee described the feeling of being part of the Late Night/Late Show band as two shows happening simultaneously in front of the cameras. "There was the guy at the desk and us over here. Paul was really the glue between the two elements," he said. "For me, it was being able to watch a really great TV show. I loved laughing at Dave and his comic wit and dry delivery. That was the most fun for me, just watching the guy."
Lee said he was not shocked or surprised when he found out Letterman's 33rd year on television would be his last. "I kind of knew what it would feel like. Really, I was ready for it. I had done enough shows," he said. "I had my fill."
In addition to his career with Letterman and the Fab Faux, Lee has found time as a reliable and sought-after studio musician. He got his start recording in New York City, which he remembered being an ideal situation. (Lee has recorded music for James Brown, Mariah Carey, Chaka Khan, Sypro Gyra and D'Angelo, among others.)
"You'd go into a room five to eight times a day almost. You'd walk into a room with a fresh band of musicians, playing a piece of music you never played before and may never have to listen to again," he said. "That kind of variety is what I seek out over and over again in my daily life. I try to keep my brain occupied with that challenge."
The challenge of keeping his skills and his mind sharp goes back to his lifelong love of and fascination with the Beatles. "The Beatles are the one thing that's always informed me what to do, as far as finding a part or how to make a song come alive by its elements. The funny thing is, throughout my entire music career, the Beatles have been the one thread running underneath everything," Lee said. "The Beatles is the reason I do what I do."
The Fab Faux performs 8 p.m. March 12 at the State Theatre, 453 Northampton St., Easton. Tickets cost $60 and $50; VIP tickets cost $110 (includes post-show meet-and-greet).