LIVE: Dweezil Zappa @ The Egg, 4/24/18
Review by Mark Alexander Hudson
Dweezil Zappa opened his new “Choice Cuts” tour at The Egg’s Hart Theatre on a recent Tuesday night with a marathon three-hour set. Due to legal complications that Frank’s eldest son is going through with other family members, his seven-piece band (formerly known as Zappa Plays Zappa) now simply bears his name. The choice cuts referred to are a trawl through his late father’s extensive and esteemed catalog, with a comprehensive mixture of fan favorites, obscurities and rare alternate arrangements – nirvana for any diehard Zappa geek. Of which there were obviously plenty at the sold-out venue.
From the outset – “Purple Lagoon” leading into the tricky “Andy” – the band established that they were more than a match for this often convoluted & complex music. Led by Dweezil on lead guitar, the band featured vocalist-guitarist Adam Minkoff, vocalist Cian Coey, drummer Ryan Brown, bassist Kurt Morgan, keyboardist Chris Norton and vocalist-multi instrumentalist Scheila Gonzalez, who handled keys, sax, clarinet and flute.
Instrumentally, most impressive, but I felt the vocalists could have learned something from Napoleon Murphy Brock, who sang some of this very same material guesting with Project/Object at Cohoes Music Hall two days
previously. Whereas Brock handled his parts with a nonchalant and knowing cool and never over-sang, the three featured vocalists at times over-egged the Zappa pudding. Sure, a lot of the vocal parts are deliberately
absurdist, but there’s a fine line between comic effect and just plain hamming it up. Case in point, Coey can certainly belt, and this worked for the diminutive singer in a piece like the deranged “Fifty Fifty,” but at other times she descended into histrionics, like an ill-considered audience “bark along” in “Dirty Love” and an over-long straight-forward karaoke like cover of “Back in Black.”
Another thing that could be tightened up were the comedy bits. In the original version of “Flakes,” there is a brief, amusing Bob Dylan parody. For some reason Dweezil chose to extend this into an excruciating ten-minute
routine with Gonzalez imitating both Dylan & Cartman from South Park. As his father once asked, “Does humor belong in music?” Well, yes, but in moderation!
But these are minor criticisms given the scope and reach of this three-hour show. Dweezil himself is a superb guitarist, uncannily channeling his father’s sound. And the set list really was a treasure trove for the Zappa fanatic – a faster paced, original arrangement of “Florentine Pogen,” an immaculate combination of the guitar showcases “Sleep Dirt” and “Black Napkins” called “Sleep Napkins” (only played a handful of times by Frank) and a stunning rendition of “The Black Page” featuring a fine solo from Brown.
The encore produced more novelties – a Remington razor jingle that was never used and a bizarre doo-wop song “Oh, in the Sky” sung in a strangled falsetto by Minkoff. A punchy version of “Muffin Man” closed out the show and sent the packed house home happy.
Much like Project/Object, this is not a show for the faint-hearted casual fan. But if you are a Zappaphile, it’s pretty much essential, as Dweezil keeps the family legacy alive and kicking.
DWEEZIL ZAPPA SET LIST
Lonely Little Girl
(James Bond theme)
Call Any Vegetable
Tell Me You Love Me
Back in Black
Sleeping in a Jar
Black page #1 (drum solo)
Black page #2
Peaches en Regalia
This Town Is a Sealed Tuna Sandwich
Keep It Greasey
Son of Orange County
More Trouble Every Day
Oh, in the Sky
Purple Lagoon (reprise)