Zappa Plays Zappa 12.14.12 (SOLD OUT)

The Fox Theatre
Boulder, CO

Words & Photos By Brad Yeakel

Welcome to an absurd world of kazoos, caricatures, mockeries, but most importantly... spectacular musicianship. It is the world of Frank Zappa, and it is being inhabited by his son, Dweezil. Frank once said, "progress is not made without deviation from the norm." Dweezil pointed out in his first DVD release that Frank's entire career was spent "absurdly corroborating that statement." Dweezil is keeping that torch ablaze, and lighting a new generation on fire.

The Fox Theater in Boulder was far too small of a venue to contain the crowd or the talent of Zappa Plays Zappa. The crowd spilled into the lobby as Dweezil and company took the stage and ripped in to "Willie the Pimp", which is the first Zappa song that really caught my ear, and eventually the rest of "Hot Rats" wormed its way into my brain. That was the beginning of my slow and increasing appreciation for the mustachioed maestro, and it has lead me on a journey through a rich tapestry of ludicrous lyrics, compositional complexities, and preposterous possibilities. Needless to say, I approved of the song choice, and the execution was energetic, lively, and precise. They followed it with "Hungry Freaks Daddy," and I began to realize that Dweezil was not only skilled at performing his father's music, but he has also harnessed his father's ability to put together a group of relatively unknown performers who have super-human ability. Dweezil was backed by six of the most proficient, professional, and exciting musicians in the game. Before the next song, Dweezil called Scheila Gonzalez (sax, flute, keys) up to show us all the "Molly Ringwald" dance. While she cut a rug, Ben Thomas (vocals, trumpet) pulled out his phone and took a video. Dweezil told us that the dance was from the 80's, and so was the next number... "Teenage Prostitute". Like much of Zappa's work, this tune featured intricate melodies, bizarre lyrics, and more required talent than I ever hope to have.

The next song, "Montana" is another of my favorites, and had extra meaning as I finally linked up with a visiting friend, Jason, who had driven all the way from Billings to catch the show. As we caught up, the ridiculous song about growing dental floss on a farm in Montana had the crowd delighted and in the blink of an eye, we were headed into "Echidna's Arf," an unusual instrumental. Through "Penguin in Bondage" into "Pygmy Twylyght" the gamut was executed in mind melting fashion. When it was over, Dweezil told the crowd he was thinking of a color. When the jumbled yelling of an enthusiastic crowd was eventually done guessing, Dweezil announced that the color was "ecru." He tried the game again, this time with the color brown. As the rest of the three hour musical barrage played out, my friend and I discussed the song choices... "Baby Snakes," "Harder than Your Husband," "Debra Cadabra," "City of Tiny Lights," "Peaches," "Whipping Post," (Frank's own favorite) "Strictly Genteel," and more. Jason is a hardcore Frank fan, and proved throughout the night that he could likely host an hour long Zappa episode of "Pop Up Video." He pointed out that the songs were almost all deep cuts... Aimed at Zappa's faithful, rather than the fringe listener. In fact, there were a few that even he could not place... And this is coming from a guy who is currently traveling the country listening to FZ exclusively, just one cd book containing all Zappa. His other observation was that the song choices hailed from Frank's early work, and his very late work, with very little from the middle/ bulk of his career.

I tend to think in life, people are their purest near birth and near death... in the middle, our obligations distract us from what is most important in our lives. Perhaps Dweezil feels the beginning and end of Frank's career were the purest. Dweezil skipped the middle era musically, and concentrated on the bare bones, garage tunes of Zappa's early work, before venturing to the orchestral, refined sound of his later years. Both possess a purity of vision, a clarity of purpose, and a disregard for mainstream popularity. Zappa's desire to push boundaries often had him turning new corners and creating new ideas. As a result of his prolific career and his relentless pursuit of innovation, Frank created music across genre lines, and worked in orchestral settings as well as in his rock bands. This often locks the Zappa door for listeners. He had so much output that it was nearly impossible for a fan to be crazy about all of it. Those that were, were mesmerized by the whole. In the end, Zappa alienated many potential fans simply by creating music that was outside their normal stylistic preferences.

Dweezil's talents on guitar are, in a word, phenomenal. But what made me such a huge fan of ZPZ was his presentation. For starters, his song selection was second to none. Dweezil brought us a non-stop rock show with impossibilities on display like bubble gum in a gas station. Most would think a rocking Zappa show would be hit heavy, but ZPZ crafted a set list of deep cuts that should have been hits. The songs were all energetic, humorous, and inspired. The band went well beyond the expectations of a cover band, and instead became a new incarnation. They captured the tunes in a way that represented the originals with an accuracy that was beyond mimicry. The band felt the music, and their improvisations were as vibrant as the originals. The tone, the solos, the skill, and the absurdity were not lost on a single member of the band, and they all appeared to have a blast recreating the work of a genius.

ZPZ is literally and figuratively the next generation of Zappa, and the world has Dweezil to thank for breathing life into a sleeping giant. Frank was a composer born into a world on the verge of a rock and roll renaissance, and he used his music to point out the beauties and the dangers of our new culture simultaneously through mockery and satire. Dweezil continues to magnify the absurdity, sharing the experience with fans who never had the chance to see the original.

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