Why You Should Go:
NOTE: Having not seen the production that Dweezle Zappa is putting on I have decided to let the following review of the show in Milwaukee, written by Cal Roach do the talking. This review was posted on a site that I regularly write for Jambase.com.
The general rule with tribute bands is that you go to see a moderately priced facsimile of something you love and leave yearning for the real thing. Band members often dress and coif themselves in the manner of their heroes, creating an aura of dissimulation that renders them subject to derision in the face of serious music. Frank Zappa’s formidable reputation as a live performer suggests that trying to recreate his show would be a recipe for disappointment, but his son Dweezil has avoided these pitfalls with the Zappa Plays Zappa experience by not attempting to emulate Frank, just expertly play his music. There is an undeniable continuity between the guitar styles of father and son, but Dweezil has distinguished himself as a master in his own right. Not only can Dweezil play the hell out of his dad’s compositions, but like his father, Dweezil has assembled a top-notch cast of musicians who do the Zappa legacy justice. The show is a tribute but it’s not a caricature or a novelty. And, it’s the closest thing to a Frank Zappa show that many people will ever experience.
The Rave was packed with Zappateers of all ages for the fourth show of the current tour, which lacks ex-FZ band members Terry Bozzio, Steve Vai, and Napoleon Brock Murphy, who played with the group in 2006. The set opened with tight-but-standard versions of “Echidna’s Arf (Of You),” “My Guitar Wants To Kill Your Mama” and “Dirty Love.” What happened next was a unique and somewhat surreal concert experience. The big screen behind the band lit up with the image of Frank shredding through “Black Napkins,” his recorded solo lancing through the air as the live band backed him. For anyone not prepared, it was an emotional shock. The band pulled it off brilliantly, staying perfectly in step, grooving with Frank’s ghost as he wailed the way no one else ever could. It’s hard to think of a better way to avoid having to live up to an impossible standard than this novel move.
The performances that included Frank produced some obvious highlights of the evening. He returned for “Montana,” singing and careening through a monstrous guitar solo, and the Yo! FZ Raps stylings of “Dumb All Over,” endearing himself to the religious right by proclaiming that “God is dumb,” then punctuating the sentiment with some nimble fret work. The coolest moment had to be during “Cosmik Debris” when Frank lights a cigarette and jams silently as Dweezil plays a fantastic melodic solo of his own. Then, Frank throttles his guitar and blows minds. These were communal experiences for fan and band, admiration radiating from all corners of the dingy room, bringing the tribute concept to its most reverent end.
Dweezil has amassed an impressive cast of relative unknowns to play the complicated Zappa canon. The frenetic proto-metal prog of the “Brown Shoes Don’t Make It” suite was thrilling in its precision and power. “Pygmy Twylyte” was a tight full-band workout that showed remarkable synergy. “Dupree’s Paradise” featured solos from all members and some eerie vocal/percussion madness, where Billy Hulting’s xylophone work was particularly engrossing and Jamie Kime’s guitar solo was blistering. Scheila Gonzalez (sax/flute/percussion) was brilliant throughout. The only weak spot came from Joe Travers on drums. While very talented, his style often leans toward arena rock, almost too straightforward for much of Zappa’s material, though it rarely detracted from the performance.
The biggest energy boost came from guest vocalist/guitarist Ray White, who toured with Frank in the ’70s and ’80s. White played most of the set, bowling the crowd over upon his entrance on “City Of Tiny Lights.” His stage presence was monstrously joyful, and his voice was overwhelming. His performance of “Advance Romance” was a loving conjuration of Captain Beefheart’s original madness, and his outrageous interpretation of “The Illinois Enema Bandit” induced rapturous applause. There was a clear bond of respect between White and Dweezil, who was in total command of the show and played some rapturous guitar solos as well.
“Cheepnis” was amazing, showing some Frank influence but with a more melodic sensibility, almost Jimmy Page-esque. “Carolina Hardcore Ecstasy” was another Dweezil highlight, indicating perhaps a bit of Vai rubbing off as he played around the rhythm section and reached some tremendous peaks. In the end, Frank naturally won out with his Baby Snakes solo during the essential “Muffin Man” but Dweezil still held his own.
It’s useless to rate ZPZ against FZ. You know going in that it can’t stack up, and toward the end tunes like “Joe’s Garage” and “San Ber’dino” really pronounced the absence of their creator. But, overall, this is a nostalgia trip that brings a lot of happiness to those who miss Frank. His presence is there in his songs, and anything that brings them to life is a blessing.
Zappa Plays Zappa
Venue: The Fillmore Auditorium, 1510 Clarkson Street, Denver, CO 80218 – (303)837-0360
*Approximate Set Times:
Zappa Plays Zappa – 8:30 PM
*All times and prices are gathered from other sources and I am not responsible for mistakes or inconsistencies. They are intended only as guidelines. Please, always call the venue if you desire the most accurate information possible.