Zappa Plays Zappa | 12.14.06

zappaZappa's music is like an orchestral flashback. There are twists and turns and a whole spectrum of textures. The musicianship required to perform these pieces so seamlessly is astounding.

 

 

The Pageant, St. Louis

I have seen a ton of shows, and this one topped them all with one of the most eye-opening, transcendent, inspirational, and life-changing performances that I can recall. I never considered myself to be a huge Frank Zappa fan until this show, and that's precisely his guitarist son Dweezil's intent: to put his father's wealth of compositions out there for a whole new era of fans, young and old alike. With this project—the first live concert event of Frank Zappa's music since his passing in 1993—Dweezil did a better than outstanding job assembling and rehearsing a powerhouse ensemble talented enough to pull off this massive undertaking. Along with some young, new, bad-ass players, he was joined on the tour by legendary Zappa alumni Steve Vai, Terry Bozzio, and front man Napoleon Murphy Brock.

Zappa's compositions are just flat-out whacked, seemingly made up of a series of long, complex arrangements with frequent time meter and key shifts, but done with a groove and a sense of humor. When I first heard Zappa's music as a kid, it was all a bit weird for me. It must be a lot like spinach or sushi; you have to grow into it. My palette has changed and my world has expanded, and this was just what I needed to hear. And Dweezil nailed the presentation and performance, making it powerful and heavy, music that could really groove.

Zappa's music is like an orchestral flashback. There are twists and turns and a whole spectrum of textures. The musicianship required to perform these pieces so seamlessly is astounding. Besides sounding just like Frank, Napoleon Murphy Brock also played saxophone and flute. Two amazing keyboard players that were essential to covering many of the parts: Aaron Arntz, who played an incredible solo in addition to covering the trumpet parts for the horn sections, and the multitasking Scheila Gonzalez, who also handled the alto sax and flute parts while managing to sing some beautiful passages. The percussionist, Billy Hulting, did a mind-blowing job of doubling the melodic lines on the marimba. He added both atmospheric subtlety and intensity to the arrangements. Drummer Joe Travers was the backbone, navigating the group with ease though countless time changes and beat displacements. He was locked solid with rhythm guitarist Jamie Kime and bassist Pete Griffin, both great soloists in their own right. They made you wait until the last third of the three-hour extravaganza for Vai and Bozzio to take the stage. And though they were as great as or even better than you would expect, both were obviously willing to take a back seat to the Zappa legacy. The level of virtuosity of the group was so high that Dweezil was able to spontaneously conduct them in intricate interplays, playing sounds in the shape of his arm movements.

Dweezil is such a humble guy, in spite of growing up in what must have been some extraordinary circumstances. He has been working very hard, and his guitar playing shows it. Not only is it no small feat to play some of the lines in Zappa's tunes, but he was also freely trading solos with Vai and keeping right up. After the show I mentioned to him that he is an incredible guitarist in his own right and he said, "It's not about me, it's about Frank's music, and if they find out a little something about me along the way, that's great. But it's really about getting the music to a whole new generation."

Dweezil also mentioned that they would be filming two shows in Seattle the following week for a DVD to released early next year. That will be one disc you will have to watch over and over and again.

If you don't know whether you are a Frank Zappa fan or not, take my word for it—you are. You just don't know it yet. | Derek Lauer

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