Zappa Honors Zappa at H.O.B.
By MOLLY REID
Published in The Times-Picayune/nola.com (New Orleans) - June 12, 2008
Pleasing a full audience of hardcore Frank Zappa fans is no easy task, even if you happen to be Zappa's son. The elder Zappa's massive body of work, spanning more than 30 years and 80 albums, consistently showed a penchant for finely tuned, meticulously rehearsed arrangements combined with often silly subject matter and weird musical flights of fancy. Reproducing such serious nonsense in front of a legion of admirers whose appreciation borders on the scholarly is a sink-or-swim enterprise.
But Wednesday, June 11, the Zappa fans at the House of Blues were blissfully treated to a nonstop, 2 1/2-hour set of the American composer's rock music, pristinely performed by Zappa Plays Zappa, the tribute band organized and led by guitarist Dweezil Zappa, Frank's 39-year-old son. Zappa died of prostate cancer in 1993.
From executing some of his father's most difficult guitar solos while fighting a cold -- even having to stop a nosebleed on stage -- to signing autographs for nearly a half hour after the show, Zappa and his band delivered exactly what the fans wanted: Frank Zappa's music served straight and skillfully.
The band took the stage to warm cheers as Zappa made a brief introduction tinged with his father's trademark sardonic wit.
"So, we're going to play some tunes here...with an irreverent twist," he announced coolly. "I'm sure you all have a very dark sense of humor by now, so..."
The audience laughed and applauded, and the band proceeded to launch into an explosive trio of "Purple Lagoon," in which Zappa wasted no time unleashing his guitar skills on a five-minute solo; "Imaginary Diseases" and a rollicking "City of Tiny Lights," which introduced Ray White, who toured with Frank Zappa in the late 1970s and '80s. White's vocals added a necessary layer of soul, texture and grit, not to mention nostalgia, to the tunes, while the rest of the six-person band provided the integrity and stability of the compositions. Several front-row audience members even bowed down a la "Wayne's World" to worship White after "City of Tiny Lights."
Seeing a room full of people all laugh and shout a cleverly worded obscenity over and over in "Broken Hearts," (the full title of which cannot be published here), may seem pretty shallow. Yet, Zappa Plays Zappa is a band deep enough to handle the complexity of songs such as "King Kong," or to sink into the meaty bassline of "Bamboozled by Love."
Zappa gave everyone in the band a chance to show off their chops, as when saxophonist Scheila Gonzalez, who also plays flute and keys, earned a long, loud ovation for her wild "King Kong" solo -- done in 7/8 time, no less.
But, this time around, Zappa seems to be enjoying the spotlight as well. Throughout the band's two-year touring history, he has likened his role as band leader to that of a museum curator who simply prepares and frames the art for others to enjoy. But perhaps in the band's third year, the guitarist is more eager to take some due credit and attention. He played more than half a dozen long, virtuosic solos as calmly and expertly as a concert pianist executes a Mozart concerto. In previous tours, Zappa has used video footage of his father playing guitar; Wednesday night, Frank was in the music, not on screen.
The audience did not seem to mind. After each of Zappa's solos, they cheered him and the band as Zappa quietly smiled, looking down, or, as he did at the end of an incredible "Joe's Garage," toward the rafters. "He's never played the end of 'Joe's Garage' before," one audience member marveled. "Playing that...that's sacred."