Zappa Plays Zappa | 06.09.08

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dweezil.jpgZappa's music is like an orchestral flashback. There are twists and turns and textures ranging from the whole spectrum. The musicianship required to perform these pieces so seamlessly is astounding.




The Pageant, St. Louis

Let me tell you, I have seen a ton of shows, I mean a ton; and this was one of the most eye-opening, transcendent, inspirational and life changing shows that I can recall. In the past I would never have considered myself to be a huge Frank Zappa fan, but I do now. That is the intent of this tour put on by his son Dweezil, to put the wealth of compositions out there for the consideration of a whole new era of fans, young and old alike. It is the first live concert event of Frank Zappa's music since his passing in 1993 and Dweezil did a better than outstanding job in rehearsing and pulling together a powerhouse ensemble to pull off such a massive undertaking.

Zappa's compositions are just flat out whacked, and are seemingly made up of a series of long complex arrangements with frequent time meter and key shifts, but all done with a groove and a sense of humor. I admit that 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  changed and this was just what I needed to hear. The music may have been a bitoverwhelming for me back then, but now with the relentless sensory bombardment that we experience everyday, I am more able to take it all in now and Dweezil has just nailed the presentation and performance, making it powerful, heavy and really groove.

Zappa's music is like an orchestral flashback. There are twists and turns and textures ranging from the whole spectrum. The musicianship required to perform these pieces so seamlessly is astounding. There were two amazing keyboard players that were essential to covering many of the parts; Aaron Arntz did an incredible solo and played the trumpet parts for the horn sections. Scheila Gonzalez was also covering sax parts and sang some beautiful passages; not to mention a top notch Cartman impression! The percussionist, Billy Hulting also did a mind-blowing job of doubling the melodic lines on the marimba. He added both atmospheric subtlety and intensity to the arrangements. The backbone was drummer Joe Travers and he navigated the group with ease though all of the time changes and beat displacements. He was locked solid with rhythm guitarist Jamie Kime and bassist Pete Griffin, both great soloists as well.

They also had a special guest, Ray White who joined them on guitar and lent his booming voice to be the icing on the cake. They were all as great as or even better than you would expect, but obviously willing to take a back seat to the Zappa legacy. The level of virtuosity of the group is so high that Dweezil was able to even spontaneously conduct them in intricate interplays and to have them play 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. I was only familiar with a couple of things that he had done before, and let me tell you, 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 forming solos over the complex backgrounds. 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."

There is a new DVD release of the previous tour that is a must have addition to your collection as it also features Steve Vai and Terry Bozio. That will be one disc you will want to watch over and over and again. If you don't know whether or not you are a Frank Zappa fan or not, take my word for it - you are. | Derek Lauer

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