It was more than four years ago that Dweezil Zappa, the son of legendary rock genius Frank Zappa, put together a band (including a handful of his father’s former bandmates) under the banner, Zappa Plays Zappa.
That initial incarnation of Zappa Plays Zappa featured guitar god Steve Vai, drum monster Terry Bozzio and saxophonist Napoleon Murphy Brock, among others. By the time the band made its Nippertown concert debut at The Egg back in August 2008, vocalist Ray White was the only Zappa alum left in the fold.
Since then White has split, too, and on Thursday evening the sold-out crowd at The Egg’s Hart Theatre caught a sans-superstar version of the band, which has been re-named Dweezil Zappa Plays Zappa. It didn’t matter. The younger recruits that Dweezil had enlisted were all quite capable of tackling the vast and very tricky musical repertoire left behind by Zappa the Elder.
Multi-reed player, keyboardist and singer Scheila Gonzalez was there, and so were drummer Joe Travers, rhythm guitarist Jamie W. Kime, marvelous mallet percussionist Billy Hulting and bassist Pete Griffin. The aggregation was rounded out with trumpeter/singer Ben Thomas and keyboardist/vocalist Chris Norton. And, of course, bandleader-emcee Dweezil Zappa was at the helm with a potent arsenal of guitar pyrotechnics.
The centerpiece of Thursday’s two-hour-and-a-half hour performance was the recreation of all the songs from Zappa’s brilliant 1974 release “Apostrophe (‘).” In the FZ fan universe, the album is considered one of the crown jewels in his catalog of more than 75 releases. The original featured the likes of legendary bassist Jack Bruce, virtuoso violinists Jean-Luc Ponty and Sugarcane Harris, as well as keyboardist George Duke.
DZPZappa tackled FZ’s music without a hitch. Dweezil set the stage on fire with his blistering guitar lines (especially some mighty tasty wah-wah work on the “Apostrophe” title track); Ben Thomas’ voice on several numbers uncannily caught the vocal timbre and inflections of FZ’s singing style; and the entire band navigated the quick time-signature twists and turns of the original music’s dynamic spectrum with surprising precision.
Thursday night’s show also had one additional advantage – Frank Zappa himself. Not in the flesh, of course, but it was a nice touch to have Frank Zappa on celluloid singing and playing while looming over the stage and the musicians on a giant screen for such nuggets as “Cosmik Debris,” “Inca Roads” and the final encore of “Muffin Man.”
Like in real life, Dweezil’s larger-than-life dad unfortunately will always overshadow him, even though Zappa the Younger is a very capable guitarist and musician in his own right.
In addition to the complete “Apostrophe (‘),” the concert highlights included the ridiculously complex instrumental “RDNZL,” an audience participation rendition of “Keep It Greasy” (featuring two dozen “fine ladies of Albany” dancing on stage), and an astonishingly on-the-money rendition of “Inca Roads.”
For the fans, this is as good as it gets – a grand opportunity to hear Frank Zappa’s amazingly diverse music performed live, DZPZ paying homage to the master and making sure the music doesn’t fade into oblivion.
Review and photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Ericstraus’ review at Hi Fi and Low Expectations
Excerpt from David Singer’s review at The Daily Gazette: “The vocals were great during the Apostrophe portion of the show, Ben Thomas sounding very close to Zappa, and identical at times. Thomas delivered his vocals dead-seriously, his eyes shut during his more theatrical moments. But the words — about things like yellow snow and smelly feet — kept the Zappa irony in place. You wanted to laugh, but Thomas was intensely immersed in the song. Frank would have liked it.”
DWEEZIL ZAPPA PLAYS ZAPPA SET LIST
The Gumbo Variations
Aspostrophe (‘) album
Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow
Nanook Rubs It
St. Alfonzo’s Pancake Breakfast
Cosmik Debris (w/ Frank video)
Dinah Moe Humm
Keep It Greasy
Inca Roads (w/ Frank video)
City of Tiny Lights
I Promise Not to Come in Your Mouth
Chrissie Puked Twice
Muffin Man (w/Frank video)