The music was great but something was off; some vital rapport was lacking between DZ and the audience. I dunno; maybe it's just Detroit.
I can't express what I mean without giving examples; first, I'd rather start with the good stuff. Suffice it to say right now, I feel pretty ambivalent about having traveled from Virginia to see this show (especially since I decided to get here a day early, in turn missing Sonic Youth play in my hometown of Richmond--found out too late about that one).
The band was tight. There were many extended solos by everyone and it was obvious that DZ was pleased with the individual (and collective) results (I was pleased and I think the rest of the crowd was too). Also, DZ redefined audience participation by getting two kids from the audience into the act: Michael on keyboard and Ben on bass guitar--the oldest in the pair is maybe 15 years of age--that had never been done before in any ZPZ show. (The boys did some improve jazzy material and the bit went over well.) At the end of the show, Dweezil was as indulgent as ever, generously signing stuff for the fans that congregated around the stage (many other band members were also quite magnanimous in this respect).
I don't know what to make of these contraindications to what was otherwise imparted by DZ. But, after the show I read the latest ZPZ blog entry from 7-8-09 and it seems like Dweezil is really just anxious to get back home. Plus, you check the band's play dates and you see how many consecutive shows they've done; that and all the traveling must be a real bitch. And don't forget that this concert was in Detroit... in a casino. There were lots of Zappa fans in attendance but there were also disinterested gamblers. Winos don't march.
This was my 4th show and the 2nd in which no one in the audience danced. I had an excellent seat "in the mix" on the first level, near dead-center, just a few rows back from the stage. ...And there was never that culminating moment when everyone stood up and started to really groove. (I had the same disappointment from the NY show on Halloween, but I wasn't "in the mix" then and those who were eventually achieved their own organic terpsichorean ejectamenta.) That makes a difference in my own enjoyment.
That kind of thing must make a difference for DZ too. He made various mention of his observations on audience behavior. In noting crossed arms, he singled-out Michael and Ben and got 'em up on stage. DZ is obviously really committed to advancing the ranks of FZ music admirers (especially among the young). He took it as a good sign when he saw that many in the crowd didn't recognize Inca Roads. Hmm.
Therein lies part of the problem as I see it. There's a dichotomy between the die-hards and the newbies. The product is likewise presented in this split fashion. Reactions are mixed. The energy is diluted. In that circumstance, motivation is key. When Dweezil first got on stage I thought how tired he looked. Understandable. But why all the consecutive shows and odd venues? I don't want the ZPZ folks winding up frustrated or burnt-out. It's not healthy for them and it's not so fun for the audience, even when the technical aspects of the performance are top notch.
I guess it begs the question as to what is appropriate for an audience to expect if musical perfection isn't good enough. I want an enthusiastic show; I want interaction. I don't mean that the band should pander to the crowd as if everyone in it were a personal friend; I mean that the experience should surpass that of listening to a technically flawless CD.
In turn, one must wonder what is appropriate for performers to expect from an audience. I'd have to guess that appreciation and respect are at the top of the list--maybe a certain open-mindedness as well.
At the Detroit concert, I didn't see any overt disrespect. Somebody kept yelling "Frank is here" and "your dad is watching you" which reminded me of a Foo Fighters concert I went to several years ago: some guy in about the third row kept holding up a poster of Kurt Cobain (in what, silent "protest"?). True WTF moments. There was apathy. Or was it hushed awe? Some people had the nerve to go to the bathroom or buy something to drink. These latter events seemed to rub DZ the wrong way.
After giving the audience a choice of hearing More Trouble Everyday or I'm the Slime, the band proceeded to play More Trouble and promised to play I'm the Slime later. To my knowledge, it didn't happen. DZ said the band was going to take a short break and return. What he really meant was that the band had finished its set and they were all going to go off stage for a moment in preparation for an encore. Very poor communication there. I (and about a fifth of the audience) had the distinct impression that an intermission of sorts was taking place. We all got up to do our thing (I went to pee) but the band came back literally about 60 seconds after they left. I wondered what the hell was going on. Dweezil apparently thought people were in a hurry to leave. From the bathroom, I hear DZ say something to the effect of "we said it would be a short break" and I thought I heard a few words in this vein used to justify ignoring I'm the Slime. Since I was indisposed for part of the inauspicious encore, I can't say for sure if the band followed through or not, but I had the distinct impression that they reneged.
I'm used to encores happening as follows: The band finishes a song and abruptly says "Thank you! Goodnight!" then they walk off stage as though they were heading into their tour bus--all without having given any warning or prior indication that the show was pausing or ending... They just end it. After a few minutes of audience chanting and squirming, the band comes back on stage and plays an encore. Until the ZPZ concert in Detroit, I'd never seen /the end of a show/ presented as a brief break before coming back to play more music. I'm used to those pronouncements being called intermissions. It was extremely confusing and disappointing. There was never a proper send up for the band since no one knew the show was over. There was no exquisite anticipation. By the time anyone realized an encore was going on it simultaneously dawned on people that this was it. It didn't feel right, quite unfortunate. Muffin Man would have made it all better, but nope.
Notwithstanding the bad vibes, there was some wonderful stuff that I'd be remiss for not mentioning:
This was my first time hearing Ben Thomas sing. He impressed me--with his voice and hilarious dance moves. The opening number of Zomby Woof was killer. It was nice to hear some unexpected phrasing in spots, mostly due to his choice of pitch. Ben brings a sentiment that might not otherwise be expected, even during portions of Bamboozled By Love. For the most part, it worked. I wouldn't recommend that he stop. There's room for improvement, but he's new and it will come with time; all he needs to do is better integrate his unique approach with the music--and that just means being more confident of its place. I could tell that Ben cared about what he was doing and I couldn't always say that about Ray White, who I felt was coasting. Ben and all the accompaniment on Outside Now really moved me (that song helped me get through college and the cinder block walls of my dorm room). I think that was the first time I heard that song live.
Also, this was the first time I heard Village of the Sun (another sentimental favorite) done live. Scheila sang lead on this one and nailed it.
Another noteworthy moment: I almost bust a gut laughing during Wind Up Workin' in a Gas Station. After "be a moron and keep your position", Joe says: "You gotta keep your position, Detroit!"
That about sums it up. I'm back in Va now.