Zappa Plays Zappa
finally getting to hear zappa's music live is a pretty special thing if you've grown up with it, and I assumed it wasn't going to be possible after the great man smoked his last cigarette. wasn't quite sure what to expect with this dweezil zappa-fronted band - mawkish nostalgia? natalie cole plays nat king cole style weirdness? slightly embarrassing outing from someone who can't actually play as well as frank?
the set starts with some live footage of zappa and the mothers from the 1973 live at the roxy set - montana and another one i hadn't heard before (there's always the odd fifty albums or so to catch up with in the zappa archives)... then as frank retunes his guitar, dweezil and the band walk out, and kick into a storming version of hungry freaks, daddy followed by help i'm a rock - tracks i really thought i'd never hear live.
things just kept getting better from there - great sound, the band have been seriously drilled by dweezil (who's also nailed the style of frank's solos - inca roads was truly awesome - not a note-for-note transcription, but like he's absorbed the sensibility of the zappa tone and is channeling him on that trademark SG) - he's got them to the point that zappa had with his bands where he can direct them to change time signature, feel, who's soloing etc etc with a hand signal - jumping from bass to sax mid-bar - really impressive musicianship, but also highly entertaining (yes, humour DOES belong in music when the jokes are this good). having napoleon murphy brock who sang on loads of the 70s classics made it even more authentic - he's the voice of that great era, and is a real performer, as well as a great sax player.
the only downer came when the power on dweezil's mega guitar rig disappeared. rather than throwing a strop about it, he kept the audience in the loop, looked visibly disappointed and apologised profusely - you could tell he just wanted to put on the best show possible for his dad's fans, and the fact that the ability to switch from one cool sound to another was going to throw him off his game. the band launched into pound for a brown which they hadn't tried before, but eventually they had to power down the whole venue to sort it out.
this could have been a drag, but the fact that they then came back with steve vai for some extra insanity on the solos front made it all ok. having someone who can literally do anything on a guitar is sometimes too much, but in this context, where the rest of the band are up to the challenge of making zappa's avant garde rock work, it's what you want. squeezing crazy notes out of his signature ibanez jem guitars, he's a joy to watch, freaking out, noodling at 100 miles an hour, then trading licks with dweezil in a real guitar-fest showdown. actually prefer dweezil's solos, but it's pretty cool to see someone going that far out. as chimp north points out, vai's the devil to dweezil's ralph macchio in crossroads.
the time lost meant that we missed out some other highlights that they had planned like city of tiny lights which we would have loved to see. also no terry bozio who has been playing trying to grow a chin, i'm so cute etc from the sheik yerbouti era.
but we did get to see them trying something they hadn't before - the screen dropped down, to let frank back on stage, filmed in a nutty 80s jumpsuit - soloing with dweezil's band playing. bit elvis, but still cool.
giving it 4.5 due to the lost time etc, but we're not holding it against them. if you love zappa, this band are kiling ugly radio.
other trivia facts from chimp north:
he's playing an SG because that's what he thinks of when he thinks of frank playing and it gets him in the frank zone
they're not frank's actual guitars though - didn't want to risk losing them on tour
they're in talks with gibson to produce a signature zappa model.
ps pic from manchester coming soon