A night with Dweezil Zappa is the rock ‘n’ roll (and jazz) equivalent of enjoying an evening with the symphony. But instead of hearing centuries-old works by Beethoven, et al., concertgoers are taken on a trip inside the mind of one of the 20th century’s most-misunderstood composers, Frank Zappa.
Taking the Lincoln Theatre stage in Columbus to the strains of a vintage radio commercial for the 1969 Hot Rats LP, the younger Zappa and his Hot Rats Orchestra launched into … “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow,” which is not from that record, but is probably Frank’s best-known song among casual fans.
Once Nanook the naughty Eskimo’s story was complete, the stellar, six-piece ensemble – on its Hot Rats Live! And Other Hot Stuff 1969 tour – bit into “Peaches en Regalia” and spent the next 50 minutes working its way through Hot Rats, FZ’s mostly instrumental, debut solo record, with eerie proficiency. The band leader – employing a tremolo arm, tapping his instrument and putting on an understated guitar clinic as he both emulated and built upon Dad’s work – said the goal was to capture the essence of the record. And boy did they ever, often using three keyboards to recreate and interpret such tracks as “Son of Mr. Green Genes,” “The Gumbo Variations” and “It Must be a Camel.”
But synths weren’t the only implements in play and Dweezil’s band was bolstered by not only keyboardist Kevin Bents; but adventurous bassist Kurt Morgan, high and essential in the mix all night long; drummer Ryan Brown and a pair of multi-instrumentalists whose performances were staggering on many levels.
Perched behind a wall of brass instruments, Schelia Gonzalez played woodwinds – often three or four different pieces per song – keys, percussion and guitar, along with sharing lead vocals on “Zomby Woof,” which resulted in the first standing O of the evening. On the opposite side of the stage was vocalist Adam Minkoff, who chipped in on keys, drums, percussion, guitar, mandolin, flute and recorder. They were basically a band unto themselves.
“Penguin in Bondage” and “Penis Dimension” kicked off the post-Hot Rats portion of the show – which ran for 140 uninterrupted minutes – and quickly made clear that while serious musicianship was the order of the night, humor also belongs in this music. Much like Frank – whom Dweezil now refers to as “my dad” rather than his given name as in the past – the guitarist took on bandleader/emcee roles, cuing the musicians to play snippets of the “Bewitched” and “I Dream of Jeannie” theme songs and engaging Minkoff in a hilarious improvisation based around a bluesman’s conversation about Jell-O with Bill Cosby.
“Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up” was stripped of its reggae arrangement and recast as a blues. The balladic “I Have Been in You” mocked Peter Frampton’s “I’m in You” and is still hysterical; “Broken Hearts are for Assholes” had audience members laughing through mouths agape as the musicians executed quirky time changes and rapid-fire vocals with apparent ease; and “Heavenly Bank Account” served as a reminder that all these years later, powerful people still use religion to manipulate the masses.
There was no light show to speak of and it wasn’t necessary because the focus was on the compositions and the contemporary players who brought them back to life.
And that’s how it should have been.
The three-song encore was another reminder of Frank Zappa’s uncanny ability as a composer, sandwiching “Montana” – the ridiculous story of a dental-floss farmer and his Pygmy pony – in between the instrumentals “Black Napkins” and “Sofa No. 1.” The latter, with Gonzalez’s wailing saxophone and flute duet with Minkoff, was particularly poignant; rare is the song with no words that can convey such sweet melancholy.