When Frank Zappa passed away, many believed seeing his music given true justice in a live setting would be slim at best and probably impossible. But Dweezil Zappa has other plans. The son of the late musical maestro has put together an “A” list of talent for a tour of Europe and North America that is paying tribute to his father. In fact, more North American “Zappa Plays Zappa” dates have just been announced for October.
Trying to perfect Zappa’s meticulous, meandering and extremely challenging horde of musical pieces is an unenviable task. The last-minute, one-night absence of singer Napoleon Murphy Brock due to family matters on this night didn’t help either. But Dweezil showed some of his father’s improvisational skills, proverbially flying by the seat of his black and white pajama-like pants for an engaging and strong 140-minute set.
Fans filing in were treated to some rare footage of Frank Zappa performing “Montana” on a video screen before Dweezil and the tight supporting cast opened with “Imaginary Diseases,” during which bassist Pete Griffin and saxophonist Scheila Gonzalez hopped to the beat. After announcing Brock’s absence, Zappa told the crowd they were going to see some tour firsts, beginning with the mid-tempo bluesy “Stinkfoot” sung by drummer Joe Travers that resulted in a standing ovation. The audience participation was also requested prior to the laidback yet winding reggae-centric “King Kong” from 1969’s “Uncle Meat” album, with Dweezil conducting the crowd in a similar vein that his father did with his musicians. Gonzales also shone during this number, taking the lead for a snippet of Henry Mancini’s “Theme From The Pink Panther.”
The first set was indeed impromptu, as usual inclusions “Pygmy Twylyte,” “Florentine Pogen” and “The Idiot Bastard Son” were nowhere to be found. Instead, the group soldiered on with the one-two punch of “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow” and the gear-changing “St. Alfonzo’s Pancake Breakfast,” which at times resembled Primus on downers. “Those seats must be really uncomfortable,” Dweezil quipped following yet another standing ovation from the near-capacity crowd. The first half closed with the memorable “Inca Roads,” with Gonzalez on lead vocals for the first time.
Following a 10-minute intermission, the group returned with drummer Terry Bozzio, who led the way through some of Zappa’s most arduous yet appealing tracks. Following the punk-ish “I’m So Cute” and “Tryin’ To Grow a Chin,” both from 1979’s “Sheik Yerbouti,” the band opted for tour premieres of the funk/rock/jazz of “Pound for a Brown,” a song Bozzio said he hadn’t played since 1976 or 1978. The 56-year-old drummer almost stole the show with the punishing, hellish and multi-faceted solo “The Black Page #1” from Zappa’s 1978 “Zappa in New York” album. “The Black Page #2” ensued, with guitarist Steve Vai sauntering out for the remainder of the show.
From there, the band ventured into a string of favorites, including “Peaches En Regalia,” which still resembles something out of a psychedelic spaghetti Western film, and “Montana,” which found Vai on lead guitar and occasionally dueling with Dweezil. Realizing that they were nearing the venue-imposed 11 p.m. curfew, Zappa opted to close with “Trouble Every Day,” concluding a show that contained the verve, fervor, spontaneity and excellent musicianship one would expect from Frank. Dweezil did his old man proud.
Here is the Zappa Plays Zappa set list:
“Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow”
“St. Alfonzo’s Pancake Breakfast”
“I’m So Cute”
“Tryin’ To Grow a Chin”
“Pound For a Brown”
“The Black Page #1”
“The Black Page #2”
“Peaches En Regalia”
“Village of the Sun”
“Echidna’s Arf (Of You)”
“More Trouble Every Day”