It wasn’t everything you needed to know about John Lennon in a single evening — no “Twist and Shout,” “Meat City” or “A Hard Day’s Night.” But it was close. The Fab Faux — the New York-based quintet of super-session men that covers the Beatles’ catalog and solo legacies with note-perfect passion and no dress-up cheese — opened “A Night in the Life: John Lennon at 70,” at Radio City Music Hall on September 25th, by jumping right to the extremes. They started with the climax of Revolver, “Tomorrow Never Knows,” Lennon’s 1966 trip to the Tibet in his head, then swerved right into the party gallop of “Whatever Gets You Through the Night” from 1974’s Walls and Bridges. By the end of the first set, the Faux — bassist Will Lee, guitarist Jimmy Vivino, guitarist Frank Agnello, drummer Rich Pagano and keyboardist Jack Petruzzelli, all singers and spinning out on multiple instruments, with strings, horns and a choir for complete tonal authenticity — had segued from sumptuous folk-hymn (“Across the Universe”) to Chuck Berry dada (“Come Together”), out of loopy “White Album” do-wop (“Happiness Is a Warm Gun”) into crisp five-part-harmony helplessness (“No Reply”). The rapid succession from LSD daydreams in “Strawberry Fields Forever” to the harrowing fuzz-metal howl of “Cold Turkey” was a sly shocking capsule of Lennon’s drug life in the late sixties.
The three-hour show was a daring and appropriate zigzag through the two Lennons inside nearly every song: the seeker and the realist. The second set began with Lee alone with a guitar, singing “Working Class Hero,” and peaked with an extended circle dance of euphoric raw guitar solos by Vivino, Agnello and Petruzzelli in “‘Yer Blues,” while the pairing of “Imagine” and “Revolution,” in that order, was a subtle reminder that Lennon had big dreams but despised mere bluster. There were several Lennons in that voice too, captured by the various Faux: Pagano delivered the psychedelic and rock-hard Lennon; Vivino did the swaggering John with a touch of New Jersey aggro. And Agnello brought out the boy still growing and learning, inside the man, in the peaceful Double Fantasy surrender of “Watching the Wheels.”
There was another Lennon in the house: the one that wanted to be Elvis. For the intermission, the Faux turned Radio City over to The Quarrymen, three surviving members of Lennon’s schoolboy-skiffle band. Len Garry, Rod Davis and Colin Hanton were all on stage with Lennon that day in Liverpool, in 1957, when he first met Paul McCartney. For this occasion, with a fourth member on bull fiddle, the Quarrymen played a pair of numbers from their old repertoire, including “Maggie May,” which Lennon reprised on the final Beatles’ album, Let It Be. It was an eerie and delightful interlude — a shot of living history amid powerful memories.