Caught the Sept. 25 Fab show at the Cannery on Craig Road, North Las Vegas.

Pat Woodward’s The Fab has been going strong in this town for 14 years, through thick and thin. (I actually caught them one night more than a decade ago playing to a bunch of head-bangers at Mad Dogs & Englishmen. The band was great; it was the audience who appeared to have turned down the wrong alley in some Twilight Zone search for Sid Vicious or Johnny Rotten.)

In that time, The Fab has gone through at least one full personnel turnover — housecleanings that Pat Woodward says can be necessary to keep up the level of enthusiasm.

The Fab are a Beatles cover band. The risk with a cover band is that the highest praise they’re likely to hear is “And they sounded just like (fill in the blank), note for note, word for word.”

Which could indeed get to the point where the guys feel like they’re just phoning it in.

I mean, that takes some technical virtuosity, don’t get me wrong. But if “precise duplication” is all we’re going to honor, I suppose the award would have to go to one of those Filipino or Vietnamese outfits that can play the entire metier of Tommy James and the Shondells, letter-perfect, having learned all the lyrics phonetically, since they don’t actually speak a word of English.

Is that really all there is?

The trouble with too many “Beatles tribute shows” — quickly taking over from the Elvis tribute shows as the Elvis generation toddles off to assisted living facilities — is that they make you feel like you’re trapped inside one of those souvenir “It’s snowing” paperweights with four guys in moppet wigs and a set of colorful Sergeant Pepper’s Halloween rental costumes.

“These companies and showrooms put these shows together, they say ‘Let’s get the wigs, let’s get the costumes,'” Pat says. “Then at the last minute they say, ‘Oh yeah, quick, somebody better learn the music.’ The music is the last thing they’re concerned about. The poor guy up there may look a lot like George (Harrison), but he’s struggling with the guitar parts. You can see it.”

So they cover up with recorded tracks?

“That’s the one thing I can guarantee you about the Fab; never any recorded tracks. Never.”

Friday at the Cannery, the band performed “Rubber Soul,” took a break, came back and did “Abbey Road.”

Rubber Soul was fine. The problem was with the music, not the band. I love “Rubber Soul.” But — while the subject matter was starting to evolve beyond “Take my hand and I’ll walk you home” (or was that someone else?) — in late 1965 the Beatles were still stuck in the FORMAT of the two-and-a-half minute pop song. The tight structure and neat harmonies were a wonder at the time — only a few years before, Americans had been listening to “Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini” — but they don’t allow room for a lot of wing-and-a-prayer solos.

So you can admire the virtuosity, but you still sit at a certain distance, idly trying to figure out how Pat Woodward is getting that George Harrison volume-pedal effect that disguises the actual attack of the pick on the strings — first heard earlier in 1965 on “I Need You” — during the Fab’s rendition of “Wait.” (“You didn’t see me turning the volume dial with my pinkie?” he asks me, incredulous.)

By “Abbey Road,” things had evolved to the point where Lennon, McCartney and crew were laying down a brand of rock and roll much more amendable to spontaneity and a feeling of improvisation.

This is where The Fab open up.

They say local talent never gets the respect it deserves in its own town. There are “original acts” that come through this burg, play 40 minutes of the songs they made popular 40 years ago, backed by some pickup sidemen, and doubtless walk away with a far bigger gate than Pat Woodward, bass player John Menitti, keyboardist Dave King, fine drummer Aaron Olson, and increasingly confident and impressive guitarist Cam Konicek, who’s also much better looking than that weird raccoon photo on The Fab’s current poster.

(The Fab played the Cannery Friday because the big-money Saturday show was The Turtles and Herman’s Hermits. Now, Flo and Eddie — a k a Mark and Howard Pons, a k a the Turles — are a fun pair of guys, having toured with Frank Zappa as The Mothers of Invention. On the other hand, what kind of moral offense would you have to commit in this lifetime to come back in your next life as the superannuated winsome teen-ager who has to spend 40 years performing “I’m Henry the Eighth” and “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter”?)

“We all have day jobs,” Pat Woodward confirms.

During that second set Friday at the Cannery, something happened. This may be in part because (except for the famous rooftop outing) the later Beatles stuff is studio music, increasingly defiant of the “rules” of three-minute radio air times. It was never performed live. The common wisdom for some years was that you COULDN’T perform this stuff live on stage — at least not without queuing so many pre-recorded tracks that what remained would be only technically “live music.”

The Fab have got that beat. What happened during the second set at the Cannery Friday night is that — while the music being performed remained the Beatles songbook — what we had on stage was a spontaneous, improvisational, rowdy rock ’n roll band. (The addition of Miss Nina D.’s electric fiddle didn’t hurt a bit.)

When Miles Davis performed “Surrey With the Fringe on Top,” you could hear the tune, but you wouldn’t confuse it with the version you heard on the Lawrence Welk Show. The Fab are now capable of taking things that far beyond the ordinary.

I worry The Fab will feel constrained from pushing further in this direction. That would be a shame. Pat Woodward has built a fine rock ’n roll band. Yes, the Lennon & McCartney — and Harrison — songbook gives them a fine underlying structure. But as the night wears on, this is a band that can — and should be allowed to — wail. Every Thursday night at the east Side Cannery on Boulder Highway, 8 to 11, no cover.

Then, Dec. 4 & 5 (but best double-check those dates) returning to the Cannery on Craig for a Christmas show.

Pat Woodward still does guitar repair work, too, if your axe is ailing (and who could know them better?): 702- 245-7552; www.thefab.com.

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