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ZAPPA PLAYS ZAPPA
The Brighton Dome 1 December 2011
wasn't 'Boulez Conducts Zappa' or indeed 'Jean Luc Ponty Plays Zappa'
there were times when Zappa Plays Zappa felt like a classical concert as
an incredibly skilled band set about interpreting the music of Dweezil's
dad Frank Zappa. But just like the football cliché, tonight was a game
(or concert) of two halves, literally.
set included the whole of the 'Apostrophe' album, while the second set
proved to be a stunning confirmation of just why this show is much more
than a mere tribute band.
the thrilling playing, the warped humour and the clever use of a big
screen with bursts of Frank playing at the height of his powers, proved
to be the perfect vehicle for keeping alive Frank's musical legacy.
In so many
ways this was a step back in time, from the local pubs full of music
fans, to the plumes of smoke in the street and the pre-gig collective
sense of anticipation.
was the army of eccentric Zappa fans out in their colourful regalia,
embracing a demographic spread that spanned hippies, punks, leather
jackets, women (!) and the more demurely dressed white collar
the show there was an unexpected significant moment at the
soundcheck/VIP 'meet and greet' session, as the band members stopped
playing and turned to look at Frank on the big screen as if in awe of
their guiding mentor. In fact they were checking for a glitch in the
projector, but the moment acted as a reminder of the all pervasive
influence of Frank that anchors both this project and generations of
Structurally ZPZ topped and tailed things as per Frank's early 80's
shows, limbering up with the instrumental 'Heavy Duty Judy' and
climaxing on 'Muffin Man' with the final stellar solo left to Frank on
the big screen.
the band made a good fist of playing the whole of 'Apostrophe', not an
easy task given the mix of 70's humour and lightning riffs. Vocalist Ben
Thomas worked hard on his intonation, but at times he lacked Frank's
European sense of irony in his delivery.
band pressed on with Scheila Gonzales doubling impressively on sax and
keyboards and a vocal duet with Ben on 'St Alfonzo's Pancake Breakfast',
with blistering vibes form Billy Hulting. 'Cosmic Debris' featured a
lilting bluesy solo from Dweezil as Frank appeared in triptych on the
further explored some interesting tones on 'Excentrifugal Forz', and
Scheila added a great top line and backing vocals on 'Uncle Remus' as
Dweezil was a picture concentration as he soloed fluently.
In sharp contrast to his late dad, Dweezil cut a laid back figure who
lets the music flow through him. Occasionally he'd slip into a defining
solo but often appeared seemingly lost in his own blissful karma as the
band brought Frank's music to life as authentically as possible.
player Peter Griffin added a stunning lead bass line on the 'Apostrophe'
title track, and the band pursued a faithful early arrangement of 'Stinkfoot',
eschewing Frank's later bluesy interpretation.
So far so
good, but the evening really kicked with a reggae version of 'Pick Me
I'm Clean' and a startling rendition of the stop-start and zany time
changes of 'Don't You Ever Wash That Thing?' with the crowd adding some
spontaneous responses in the song's pregnant pauses.
and Ben added brusque sax and trumpet parts before the number segued
into a cool vibes solo and spine tingling guitar from Dweezil.
respects the intermission came too soon, but 'Black Napkins' restored
the musical intensity, with Frank in a red jump suit on the big screen
taking the lead as Dweezil gazed dreamily into the upstairs balcony.
It was the
moment when you realised the band was paying their homage to Frank, but
they redressed the balance on the brilliant 'Cheepnis', with Ben Thomas
providing his best vocal of the night as drummer Joe Travers added a
mock commentary rap, and Dweezil again soloed mellifluously. The crowd
responded in kind, giving the band their best reception so far.
switched to flute on the instrumental 'Peaches En Regalia' before
another vocal duet with Ben on the superb 'Carolina Hardcore Ecstasy',
as Dweezil found a rich warm tone on the concluding solo. There was a
thoughtful Doo-wop intro on 'What's The Ugliest Part of Your Body',
before the coolest groove of the night with a funky keyboard line and
it got better with motif from 'Chunga's Revenge' and an impromptu
hip-hop rap from Ben. Dweezil dipped into the 'Variation on the Carlos
Santana Secret Chord Progression' in the middle of 'City of Tiny Lights'
and Scheila produced some incredible sounds as part of a honking sax
solo before duelling with Dweezil.
only Frank's all pervasive sense of the ridiculous could have topped
that moment. As it was, he surely have would have smiled as the lunatics
all but took over the asylum as part of an impromptu dance contest on
'Dancing Fool', with both Ben and Scheila joining the front row freak
out to do their thing.
time of the closing 'Muffin Man' emotions were running high, and the
crowd generated the kind of volume that we all took for granted all
those years ago.
Zappa Plays Zappa wasn't so much a collective flashback as a brilliant
on going musical celebration of Frank's enduring 80 album legacy.
by Stu Day
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