If the venue had suddenly and spontaneously combusted as the band formerly known as Zappa Plays Zappa burned through explosive versions of “Teen-age Wind,” “Montana,” “Zombie Woof” and “Doreen,” it would have been a fine way to go out.
This blistering segue appeared about halfway through Dweezil Zappa’s two-hour, 40-minute tour of Frank Zappa music on Sunday, January 22 before a wildly enthusiastic crowd at Express Live! The ferocious run was just one of many highlights that found Dweezil and his four-man, two-woman band humming like a perfectly tuned engine firing on all cylinders.
Dweezil dropped the ZPZ monicker because of an internecine lawsuit brought against him by siblings Ahmet and Diva, who, as the Zappa Family Trust, want to prevent their brother from using his own surname when playing his father’s music.
But in this case, the band’s name means little.
Still, Dweezil took a moment late in the show to rip into his siblings and mock them for selling yoga pants emblazoned with Frank’s likeness. He encouraged his fans to donate to his Others of Intention fund-raiser on PledgeMusic.com and help him continue to tour and play Frank Zappa music without their interference.
Dweezil always puts together an impeccable cadre of musicians to perform Frank’s impossibly complex musical and lyrical arrangements and this group – the fifth different lineup I’ve seen in six shows over a decade – was no exception.
Boasting multi-instrumentalists who effortlessly switched from horns to keys to percussion to guitar, and five lead vocalists, Dweezil’s band made one of music’s most notoriously difficult-to-play songbooks look deceptively simple.
Kazoos were as likely to be heard as were flutes, baritone saxophones and more common rock instruments like guitar, bass and drums – all played in the most uncommon of ways.
The musicians were arrayed as a power trio on “Apostrophe.” They were a nearly a capella doo-wop band on “The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing.” They scampered around the stage, switching instruments and lead vocals on difficult and intricate early numbers such as on the renewed relevance of “It Can’t Happen Here,” – which included a snippet of Kansas’ “Carry on Wayward Son” – and “You’re Probably Wondering Why I’m Here.”
The five-decade retrospective began with a huge sampling of the Mothers of Invention’s 1966 debut, Freak Out!, and wended its way through 200 Motels and Joe’s Garage. It paused to take a lengthy gander at a “Watermelon in Easter Hay” and took the long way around Frank’s 1988, horn-driven arrangement of “Black Napkins” before a generous, four-song encore featuring “Ride My Face to Columbus,” the aforementioned “Meek,” “Cosmik Debris” and “Muffin Man” brought it all home.
It was an epic journey with dramatic and sudden shifts in tempo and timbre. And there was comedy – because humor does belong in this music.
Band members playfully tossed inflatable toys around the stage during “Lemme Take You to the Beach” and staged a laugh-till-it-hurts recreation of “Fembot in a Wet T-Shirt” featuring gargantuan, balloon bazoombas and an imaginary icepick to the forehead, with Dweezil reprising Frank’s running commentary.
Dweezil doesn’t recreate Frank’s music as much as he reinterprets and honors it – a grand idea given that the elder Zappa didn’t dwell in any one genre; he was a genre.
Frank’s fans know this and they hung on every note and every word. When Joe’s Garage’s “Mary” recited her famous monologue in “Packard Goose,” the crowd spoke along, punctuating the most popular and meaningful passage in a unified celebration of Frank Zappa’s legacy.
“Music is the best!” everyone shouted before a small cheer went up in the pavilion.
And so it was.