Zappa Plays Zappa: Playing in Every Sense of the Word
By
J. Gordon
12/17/2006 10:01:10 PM

Dweezil Zappa is a lucky guy. Sure, there’s the obvious privilege that goes along with being the son of a rock god/creative genius. There’s the stroke of luck that he inherited significant musical talent himself. And of course, another stroke of luck that he didn’t inherit the genes for his father’s beaky nose (ah, poor sister Moon Unit!). But maybe the luckiest thing of all about Dweezil Zappa is that he clearly had a loving relationship with his Dad (who passed away in 1993) and great respect for his father’s work—and now he has the opportunity to work with some of Frank Zappa’s original band, along with some of the greatest musicians of our time, to expose a new generation to this amazing music.

Dweezil Zappa said online (www.zappa.com) that he cocooned himself away for a year to learn the unusual and difficult guitar techniques required to successfully reproduce the complex music of his father, which while usually categorized as ‘rock’ or ‘comedic rock’, also dips heavy into jazz and classical compositions. The band was put together with some of Frank Zappa’s own handpicked musicians such as Napoleon Murphy Brock, who went on to play with tribute bands Zappa Corner Band, Grand Mothers of Re:Invention, and Project/Object before joining this talent brigade. Project/Object played St. Louis to a smattering of people at Cicero’s a couple years back, but it wasn’t until Dweezil took up the cause that that press and crowds began to take notice. In order to appeal to the younger set, it was important to Dweezil to cull the best and brightest from the music schools, and that’s how they found talents such as keyboardist Aaron Arntz. Only a handful of players can pull off these intricate, sophisticated musical arrangements.

And that’s another good reason to have guests like guitar legend Steve Vai and drummer extraordinaire Terry Bozzio, who also probably sell a few tickets just on their reps. Playing to a full house at St. Louis’ Pageant this December, Dweezil and Company were clearly having a blast, dancing, grinning and playing music --in every sense of the word.

Lead singer Napoleon Murphy Brock handled Daddy Zappa’s vocals wonderfully—not missing any of the fullness or fun, yet not so close to the records as to feel like a mimic or cheesy cover. Whether you knew every word or hadn’t heard the music before, it didn’t matter. This is music to experience live for full impact and extreme joy.

The crowd was diverse: black and white, teens, parents and seniors, goths, punks, bikers, LL Beaners and everyone in-between. Dweezil Zappa, who wore one of his dad’s “Freak Out!” t-shirts [and is decidedly the cutest guy in music today, in this writer’s opinion], seemed genuinely pleased that so many young people were discovering his father’s genius.

There was plenty of humor, as to be expected, and we got several favorites such as “Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow,” and “Montana.” Despite the laughs, no one could deny this was serious music and much of the show showcased technically difficult songs such as, “G-Spot Tornado,” “St. Alfonzo’s Pancake Breakfast,” “The Black Page” and “Inca Roads.” The band was tight and bouncy as a coiled spring, and rose to the challenge in perfect synchronization.

Guitarist Steve Vai jumped into the mix in the second half of the almost 3-hour set. His freaky, other-worldly looks just added to the mind blowing experience. Drummer Terry Bozzio took his post at a set of drums that completely surrounded him, with arches of cymbals wrapping overhead and behind him like he was the stone in a diamond setting. Looking a little like Trent Reznor with a bit more weight, he sang vocals for the ‘teen angst segment’ while he played, and basically slaughtered the place with his talent.

Near the end of the show, Dweezil put down his guitar, turned around, and played conductor as his father had done in the old days; a wonderful sensory experience that took the audience past sight and sound and straight into feeling. Just as Frank Zappa never used drugs, Zappa Plays Zappa was the ultimate synesthesia with no harmful potential and no hangovers later. Nothing but good, good vibes. A freak-out, indeed.

 

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